Minneapolis – South Carolina Destiny Henderson size up Big Bakers. It’s been two minutes into the final quarter of the 2022 NCAA National Championship game between the Gamecocks and the UConn Huskies on Sunday night.
Henderson dropped the ball with her right hand while the Bakers tried to trick the ball screen. But Henderson broke into the gap that opened, and drove hard into the driveway. The 5-foot-7 senior guard has risen by UConn’s 6-3 High Edwards on her hip and flipped the ball off the backboard and across the net. She ran back to the court while UConn reset, her tongue sticking out slightly, smiling.
“It was on fire,” South Carolina coach Lisa Boyer said after the game. “It was her day, her night. And she benefited from that.”
Henderson finished the game with 26 points, four assists and three steals in South Carolina’s 64-49 win over Yukon in the program’s second National Championship in five years. She is the first player since 2000 to score the highest level of her career in a national championship match. She had a hand on 34 of the Gamecocks’ 64 points, shooting 9-for-20 from the field and 3-for-6 from outside the arc. Defensively, she helped raise the Bakers’ tally, the 2021 National Player of the Year, to 14 points. The Bakers fired 1 for 5 vs. Henderson.
“I didn’t really even know I had gotten to the top of my career,” Henderson said. “It’s just such a blessing, and just an honor to do this at this moment, a special moment, that we will all remember forever.”
When the clock at Target Center vanished, the crowd started chanting for Gamecocks. Even as the fans roared — led by superb South Carolina and Las Vegas striker Aja Wilson — Henderson remained calm. When she was laid off, Coach Dawn Staley hugged her and slapped her on the back in celebration. Assistant Fred Schmiel wrapped Henderson in his arms and lifted her off the ground.
As the final seconds approached, Henderson stood near the bench, smiling, her head bowed low, tears welling up in her eyes. When her teammates ran to the field at the bell, Henderson walked instead, pulling her shirt over her face to hide her emotions from the cameras and the crowd.
“It was a journey that led me to this moment,” she said. “I had to believe I had to take part in my turn, and I feel it was really worth it.”
Junior striker High Boston He was named the best player in the Final Four. But as Henderson held the cup high, clips raining from the ceiling, this moment was a reminder of what Henderson needed to get there: from the YMCA courts in her hometown of Fort Myers, Florida, to the bench in Columbia, South. Carolina. This was a night in the making for the South Carolina point guard, who two years ago was sitting on the bench.
She pulled Staley Henderson aside in her sophomore year and told her she wasn’t going to be playing a starter but that she’d be playing for long minutes. Henderson would end up playing all 33 games, but she didn’t start one that season.
Monica McNutt and Andrea Carter explain how the Gamecocks were able to dominate their championship match against the Huskies.
“I just thought, for the sake of the team, it was better for me to be on the bench,” Henderson told ESPN in January. “And that’s what I did.”
Staley relayed the story to Gamecocks while studying the film just days after the team’s first loss of the 2021-22 season, and a 70-69 overtime defeat to Missouri. It was meant to inspire her players to commit and trust the process, which Henderson said summed up. To confirm her point, she asked a question.
“What does Henny say?” I asked Staley for Henderson’s response when she broke the news. “She doesn’t say much.”
Henderson didn’t say much Sunday night after the game. She didn’t scream or scream. There was only a hint of a smirk and the tip of her tongue sticking out from between her lips.
“She’s a quiet soul,” Staley said. “And smooth operation.”
Henderson’s next stop will be the WNBA draft. Her Sunday night performance is the kind of moment that affects the draft’s inventory, especially as it’s been a week since it kicked off.
“The sky’s the limit,” said Minnesota Lynx guard Angel McCoctry. “She would be a great professional player.”
Henderson climbed the ladder to cut her share of the net, just as she did everything else Sunday night, with a calm, smooth confidence. Minimal celebration.
Just a moment to cherish the way you do. Not saying much.
Its performance speaks loudly enough.