Since then, Staley has recruited as well as or better than UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, has come close to matching his salary, and has made her team a consistent threat for a deep run in the tournament.
She has not returned to the title game until now.
If she can win the Gamecocks their second championship, the program’s status as a powerhouse will be confirmed; if they lose, it might be seen as evidence that UConn’s dominance persists in spite of all the growth that has happened around the sport.
Can South Carolina score enough?
South Carolina knows the key to its game is a suffocating defense. The question is whether its guards, who underperformed in some of the early rounds, can come up with enough points to stay ahead of the Huskies.
Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke sank crucial 3-point shots against Louisville, but the Huskies held Stanford — typically a strong team from behind the arc — to just four triples in the semifinal. The Gamecocks guards will have to get creative to supplement Aliyah Boston’s consistent and prolific scoring.
Aliyah Boston will of course be a focal point.
Boston won this year’s Naismith Trophy earlier this week, and that means that this year’s and last year’s (Bueckers) best college basketball players will compete for the game’s most important prize.
Boston, a 6-foot-5 forward, has played remarkably over the past two games, padding the box score but more crucially playing with poise and control. She has avoided fouling out of frustration and found ways to make teams pay for double- and triple-teaming her.
She will need to summon that strength and patience one more time this season if the Gamecocks are to beat the Huskies.
If the Final Four games are any indication, this championship game will be a physical one. South Carolina hasn’t been particularly effective from the free throw line this season, making just 67.7 percent of its shots. But the Gamecocks made a higher percentage of their chances against Louisville, mostly thanks to Boston’s impressive consistency. In what looks to be a tightly fought matchup, making the most of those opportunities will be important.