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No. 1 South Carolina comes back to defeat No. 2 Stanford in second Nos. 1 vs. 2 matchup of season

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No. 1 South Carolina remains undefeated after it once again defended its ranking against a No. 2 team in the country. 

The Gamecocks came back from 18 points down and completed the largest comeback victory in program history to down reigning champion Stanford, 65-61. It was their fifth victory against a top-10 ranked team this season and they are the first team since Baylor in 2011-12 to multiple regular season Nos. 1 vs. 2 games, per ESPN.

National player of the year contender Aliyah Boston made a layup on an assist by Destanni Henderson, who returned after missing three games with a leg injury, to give the Gamecocks the 61-60 lead with 1:07 to play. Her rebound with 19 seconds left helped the Gamecocks seal it as she and Destiny Littleton each made a free throw to make it 63-60.

South Carolina (12-0) fouled Cameron Brink with 3.6 seconds remaining and holding a three-point lead. She hit the first and Francesca Belibi was called for a controversial lane violation on the second. She got tied up with Boston, who appeared to lean into Belibi, sending her into the paint. The Gamecocks hit free throws to seal the win. 

Stanford (8-3) led by 14 at the half with a hot-shooting start. South Carolina's defense fueled its comeback in the third, forcing the Cardinal into turnovers and turning them into scoring runs. In all, they scored 26 points off of 20 Stanford turnovers. It was a back-and-forth game in the final 10 minutes that again came down to the final seconds. 

The contest was a rematch of the 2021 Final Four that Stanford won by a single point en route to the national title and the second No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup of the young season. South Carolina defeated Connecticut, then ranked second in the Associated Press Top 25, ahead of Thanksgiving.

Henderson game changer for South Carolina

South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson
South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson returned to help the Gamecocks defend their title in another No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Henderson was the difference for the Gamecocks in her return. She hit 8 of 13 shots for 17 points, but was most felt on the defensive side. With South Carolina deep in the hole, she became a menace on the ball handlers and fueled the defensive effort. 

The senior guard neared triple-double territory with seven assists and seven steals. It certainly helped the star's draft stock against the reigning champions. Following missed jumpers on both ends with the Gamecocks leading 61-60, Stanford won a jump ball and had the inbound with 24 seconds left. Henderson was tasked with star Haley Jones, forcing her to find Brink instead of dribble out or attempt a shot. Brink missed the shot and Boston was in position for the rebound. 

Boston had 18 points (8-for-20) with 11 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. She had a team-high 10 in the first half on 5-for-13 shooting, the most consistent Gamecock of the period. Only two other players made at least two baskets and the rest of the team collectively shot 33%.

The team had 10 blocks — a strong suit of theirs — but went 9-for-15 from the free throw line, which has been a problem. They were 35.6% overall and made 4-of-16 3-pointers. 

Strong offense for Stanford sinks Gamecocks early

Stanford had contributions around the lineup and used its length to crowd the paint, especially in the first half. Lexie Hull scored a team-high 17 points, but had 14 of those in the first quarter. She added seven rebounds. 

Belibi scored 12 off the bench, shooting 6-for-9, with four rebounds, one steal and one block. Jones added 11 with two rebounds, two assists and three blocks. They shot 42.9% as a team and 46.7% (7-15) from 3-point range over the course of the game. 

The Cardinal made 6-of-11 3-pointers in the first half and shot 53% overall whereas South Carolina struggled. The Gamecocks were 12-for-42 (29%) and made 1-of-9 attempts beyond the arc. Zia Cooke hit the solo shot minutes into the first quarter to make it a short-lived South Carolina lead, 7-2. 

The 42-28 score was the largest halftime deficit for South Carolina over the past three seasons. It's also the largest deficit of the season for the Gamecocks, who also trailed against UConn before topping the Huskies. Hull paced the Stanford offense with 14 of the team's 21 first-quarter points and didn't score again until the fourth. 

Gamecocks defense fuels offense in third

Head coach Dawn Staley has called this group possibly her best defensive team and best rebounding group. What they didn't show in the first half, they came out with in the third and combined it with better shots to get back into the game.

Boston made the Cardinal pay from deep and Destiny Littleton followed with her own 3-pointer off a Henderson steal. Henderson stole it again on the ensuing possession and went full-court for a layup that jump started the comeback. 

The Gamecocks, who trailed by as many as 18, cut it to 45-38 on the three plays. By the four-minute mark, they cut the deficit to eight. Victaria Saxton scored four points, Henderson turned a steal into a layup and Brea Beal hit a 3-pointer on an assist by Boston to come within one, 50-49, heading into the fourth. They turned seven Stanford turnovers into 12 points.