By Mike Harley | @mhar3481
MINNEAPOLIS — South Carolina senior guard Destanni Henderson saved her best game of the season for last, leading the Gamecocks to their second national championship in program history, defeating perennial power Connecticut 64-49 on Sunday night. Henderson scored a career-high 26 points while shooting 9-for-20 from the field, and 3-for-6 from 3-point range. Henderson is the first player in 22 years to record a career high in the national championship game.
With much of the focus on her teammate and Naismith Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, Henderson took full advantage of the opportunity and dominated throughout the contest. It didn’t take long for Henderson to find her offensive rhythm, connecting on a 3-pointer just 23 seconds into the game.
“My teammates trusted in me. I feel like since day one,” Henderson said following the postgame celebration. “We’ve been putting in the hard work and waiting for this moment, and tonight just found open shots.”
A native of Fort Myers, Florida, Henderson talked about overcoming adversity to become a national champion. “All the hard work, all the focus, me trusting the process, me trusting Dawn. She just put me in a position to be great and today, we’re national champions,” she said after the title game.
Henderson missed three weeks of the regular season due to a left leg injury, but has regained her form as the season progressed, playing her best game when the Gamecocks needed her the most.
While her offensive explosion was obvious for fans to see, her defensive effort against UConn star sophomore guard Paige Bueckers was more subtle, but arguably just as crucial.
“I knew I had to use my speed and make sure I stayed with her,” Henderson said. “The first time we played them, that really worked out well for us, so I knew I needed to come into this game and bring that same momentum,” she added, referencing the teams’ first meeting of the season in the Bahamas last November.
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley mentioned in the postgame how Henderson stayed committed to the program, even when she had the opportunity to transfer after a difficult freshman season.
“I said, if you just hang in there with me, the next three years of your career won’t be like this,” Staley said. “But she’s trusted the process. She’s a quiet soul, smooth operator, but she had a different look this tournament because she knew it was going to be her last tournament.”
Henderson also credits Staley for her success as a basketball player. “I had to believe and had to buy into my role, and I feel like it was worth it. She’s a great coach,” Henderson said of Staley. “You just have to buy in and trust the process and great thing will happen for you.”
Her performance on Sunday night in the title game will be remembered by South Carolina fans as she has cemented her legacy as a clutch player for the Gamecocks and is now a national champion.
“Henny [Henderson] was patient enough to wait for those things, and now she’ll go on, like she’ll be in the record book,” Staley said of the senior guard. “And I just know whatever franchise gets her in the WNBA is going to get a good one. Low maintenance, high performer.”