COLUMBIA, S.C. – A'ja Wilson knew quickly in South Carolina's first few possessions that the second-ranked Gamecocks had no margin for error when they had the ball against No. 1 Connecticut.
The Huskies took away the Gamecocks' bread-and-butter, a simple entry pass to its tallest players in 6-5 Wilson and 6-4 Alaina Coates. But the Huskies front line, led by Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck, denied South Carolina's best chance at an upset down low and the Huskies won 66-54 Monday night.
"They take away your first option," said Wilson, who had 13 points. "We tried to get it inside the paint, but they just denied it."
And that meant trouble for the South Carolina (22-1), who struggled during stretches to score points. The Gamecocks made just three of 17 shots in the third quarter.
"They pushed us out a lot father from scoring areas," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. "It was just disruption. Any time you have that disruption, it makes passes really hard and everybody a step or two outside."
"A team like UConn, you can't go possessions without scoring," Wilson said.
Especially when Stewart, Tuck and Moriah Jefferson had few such issues.
Stewart led the way with 25 points, Tuck had 16 and Jefferson 12 as the Huskies (23-0) won their 60th consecutive game and improved to 19-3 all-time in No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchups.
"These games are a lot of fun," said Stewart, who also had 10 rebounds and five blocks. "They are exciting for us.'
UConn Geno Auriemma felt the increased vibe as his team stepped out of its American Athletic Conference schedule. His players soaked in the anticipation of the season's biggest game and played with fire in front of a sold-out, 18,000-seat arena to prove themselves the best, the longtime coach said.
"The fun part is the look in their eyes," he said.
UConn took control early, taking a 30-15 lead midway through the second quarter against a team with a 45-game home winning streak.
South Carolina lost Wilson, its leading scorer, with 4:22 left in the second quarter after she injured her left leg. She returned for the final period.