South Carolina started each half in great shape, and used its bread and butter — offensive rebounding — to put itself in position to win the national championship on Sunday night.

The Gamecocks handed Geno Auriemma his first loss in the national championship, as Dawn Staley won her second national title at South Carolina. The Gamecocks finished the season 35-2 with a 64-49 victory over the Huskies.

And while UConn made several runs to cut the South Carolina lead to 6 or 7 points at times, the Gamecocks responded in the national championship. Destanni Henderson, who more than doubled her season points average, paced the Gamecocks throughout, in the first half with a trio of 3-pointers, and in the second half with fastbreak points. She finished with 26 points.

Case in point to responding to runs, while the Huskies ended the first half on an 11-3 run, it was South Carolina that responded with a 9-0 run to start the second half. But by the end of the third quarter, the Huskies went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to just 6 points, as South Carolina had 4 turnovers during that stretch.

The Gamecocks held UConn to the fewest points (8) in a first quarter for Auriemma’s team, as the Gamecocks got off to an 11-2 start thanks to a barrage of offensive rebounds. Staley’s team, which averaged 19.4 offensive rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, had 5 offensive rebounds by the 7:00 mark.

South Carolina built an 18-point lead in the first half, but missed 12 of its final 13 shots down the stretch to lead 35-27 at halftime. It’s the largest deficit ever for UConn in a national title game.

This was South Carolina’s second appearance in the title game, as Staley’s squad won the championship in 2017.

Thanks to cold shooting and great defense, the Huskies didn’t hit their first 3-pointer until 2 minutes left in the third quarter.

South Carolina star Aliyah Boston, who had just 3 points in the second and third quarters, and had 4 touches in the paint in the third quarter, finished with 11 points. But where her offense struggled, Boston chipped in on defense, and in particular setup Henderson for fastbreak points.

UConn’s Paige Bueckers, playing near her hometown, finished with 14 points.