Senior swan song: Henderson ends South Carolina career with NCAA championship

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      Katie Barnes is a writer/reporter for espnW. Follow them on Twitter at Katie_Barnes3.

MINNEAPOLIS — South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson sized up Paige Bueckers. It was two minutes into the fourth quarter of the 2022 NCAA national championship game between the Gamecocks and the UConn Huskies on Sunday night.

Henderson dribbled the ball with her right hand as Bueckers tried to cheat a ball screen. Henderson accelerated down the lane, breaking through the gap that was opened by Bueckers’ right hand. The 5-foot-7 senior guard elevated with UConn’s 6-3 Aaliyah Edwards on her hip and flipped the ball off the backboard and through the net. As UConn reset, she ran back down the court, her tongue poking out a little, smirking.

“She was a firecracker,” South Carolina associate coach Lisa Boyer stated after the game. It was her day, it was her night. She took every advantage of it. “

Henderson ended the game with a career-high 26 points, four assists and three steals in South Carolina’s 64-49 victory over UConn for the program’s second national championship in five years. She is the first player since 2000 to score a career high in a national championship game. She had a hand in 34 of the Gamecocks’ 64 points, shooting 9-for-20 from the field and 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. Defensively, she helped hold Bueckers, 2021’s national player of the year, to 14 points. Bueckers shot 1-for-5 versus Henderson.

” I didn’t know that I had a career-high,” Henderson stated. It’s a blessing and an honor to do it in the moment, a moment that we will all remember forever. “

As the clock ticked down at Target Center, the crowd began cheering for the Gamecocks. Henderson remained calm despite the roaring of the crowd, led by A’ja Wilson, a South Carolina Aces forward. Coach Dawn Staley gave Henderson a hug and patted her on the back when she was finally subbed out. Assistant Fred Chmiel wrapped Henderson and lifted her from the ground.

As the clock ticked down, Henderson stood beside the bench, smiling, with her head bowed and tears streaming down her eyes. Henderson chose to walk instead of running as her teammates ran onto court at the buzzer. She pulled her shirt over her face to hide from the cameras and crowd.

” “It was a journey which led me to this point,” she said. “I believed and had to buy in to my role. It was worth it. “

Junior forward Aliyah Boston was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. As Henderson lifted the trophy high, confetti fell from the ceiling. This moment was a reminder about what it took for Henderson get there. This was a night that was years in the making for Henderson, a South Carolina point guard who was just two years ago on the bench.

Staley pulled Henderson aside during her sophomore season, telling her that although she wouldn’t be a starter, she would still be playing a lot. Henderson would end up playing all 33 games, but she didn’t start a single one that season.

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Monica McNutt and Andraya Carter break down how the Gamecocks were able to take control of the championship game against the Huskies.

“She just thought, for the team’s sake, that it was just best for me to come off the bench,” Henderson said to ESPN in January, looking back. “And that’s exactly what I did. “

Staley relayed the story to the Gamecocks during film study just days after the team’s first loss of the 2021-22 season, a 70-69 overtime defeat to Missouri. She wanted to encourage her players to trust the process and to be committed, as Henderson was a great example of. She asked a question to emphasize her point.

“What do you think, Henny? Staley enquired about Henderson’s response to the news. “She doesn’t say much. “

Henderson didn’t say much on Sunday night after the game. She didn’t yell, scream or scream. She had a slight smirk and her tongue peeked out between her lips.

“She is a quiet person,” Staley said. “And a smooth operator. “

Henderson’s next stop will be the WNBA draft. With draft stock only one week away, her performance on Sunday night was a moment that will impact draft stock.

” The sky is the limit for Angel McCoughtry, Minnesota Lynx guard. “She’s going be a great professional athlete. “

Henderson climbed the ladder to cut down her portion of the net, just as she did everything else on Sunday night, with a quiet, smooth confidence. Minimal celebration.

Just a moment to remember in the same way she does. You don’t have to say much.

Her performance was loud enough.

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