What to watch for in UConn-South Carolina showdown on FOX

Sunday’s game between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 5 Connecticut could be a preview of the Final Four. It could be a chance for Dawn Staley to show Geno Auriemma that there is a new ruler of college basketball.

And it could be a chance for UConn to reclaim dominance.

Fans can tune into FOX on Sunday to watch the drama unfold.

Here’s what to watch out for in the big game.

No. 1 South Carolina at No. 5 UConn: Sunday, 12 pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app

The top-ranked, undefeated Gamecocks may be the best team in the country, but they face a big roast on Sunday. South Carolina (22-0) heads to Gampel Pavilion in a national championship rematch against No. 5 UConn. The Huskies will be the first ranked opponent Staley’s team has faced since beating No. 15 UCLA on Nov. 29.

South Carolina is currently on a program-best 27-game winning streak – can the Gamecocks keep it up in one of the most intimidating places in sports? UConn, meanwhile, has dealt with several player injuries this season, including stars Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, as well as Carolina Ducharme and Ice Brady. Head coach Auriemma has had his own health issues following the death of his mother in December and missed several games while feeling “under the weather and depressed,” he said in a statement earlier on last month

And yet, the Huskies are still one of the best teams in the country (21-2) with a rotation of seven or eight players. How could they endure so much adversity? It helps when players like Aaliyah Edwards (averaging 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game) step up. There’s also the aspect of mental toughness, which is a testament to the culture Auriemma has built at UConn.

Staley’s group hasn’t had it as hard in the SEC; admittedly, they have yet to play No. 3 LSU, the only other ranked team in the conference. Reigning Naismith Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston is in contention to win those awards again (12.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG). In the Gamecocks’ 65-52 win over Alabama last week, Boston posted the following stat line: 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting, 12 rebounds and four blocks. How will a depleted Husky roster handle it? That will be a big question in Sunday’s game.

While UConn would prefer to have its star players back in the lineup, this final stretch of the regular season gives the available players incredible experience before the NCAA Tournament begins. And it will be a glimpse into March for a team that, while depleted, could still make the Final Four.

The Gamecocks need to take advantage of this moment. Beating UConn in Storrs, with or without a full Husky roster, would be a huge blow before the regular season ends, which features this matchup against Kim Mulkey’s Tigers.

Repeating as national champions is a tough ask: only three teams in the history of the sport have ever done it: USC, Tennessee and UConn (multiple times). But South Carolina has the talent to do it. In addition to Boston, teammates Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Kamilla Cardoso and Laeticia Amihere make it happen. Somehow they also have an even more dominant defense than last year, holding opponents to 46.0 PPG and averaging a nation-leading 9.7 blocks.

Nothing is impossible when it comes to UConn, but it will be a challenge for a tired Husky team to get past the defending national champions this time around.

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in the spring of 2022 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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