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Destanni Henderson caps South Carolina career with game to remember

(Bri Lewerke/Just Women's Sports)

Destanni Henderson scored a career-high 26 points in the national championship game Sunday night.

It would be natural to make a pun about how it was her “Destanni,” or describe the 3-pointers that helped South Carolina sink UConn 64-49 to win the title, but what would be the point?

Henderson said everything that needed to be said on the court, and her scoreline speaks for itself, even if she didn’t know exactly how monumental it was.

When the buzzer sounded and Henderson commenced celebrating with her teammates, the senior guard wasn’t aware that she had reached a career milestone.

“I didn’t even know I had a career-high, to be honest,” Henderson said with a laugh, after it was brought up in the postgame press conference. “But when people spoke about it and let me know, that is even more of a blessing. It is an honor to do it in this special moment that all of us are going to remember forever.”

Henderson’s offensive outpouring was sparked by her defensive performance.

The senior guard drew the assignment of matching up with Paige Bueckers, holding the UConn star sophomore to zero first-quarter points and 14 for the game.

Staley said she was ready to switch the bigger Brea Beal on Bueckers if necessary — she has six inches on Henderson — but the Gamecocks never had to make the switch.

“We didn’t really have to do that, because Henny was super focused on making it really hard for her,” Staley said. “Paige made some incredible shots, but we wanted 40 minutes of making her work.”

While Henderson made it difficult for Bueckers to score, she had no trouble getting going on the other end.

She had 11 first-half points, including three 3-pointers. Every time Henderson hit from long range, she pulled out her signature bow-and-arrow celebration, eliciting cheers from the South Carolina crowd.

And when UConn made runs to chip away at the lead, and the Gamecocks needed to put them away, it was Henderson who stepped up.

“Henny did it all tonight,” Aliyah Boston said. “She attacked the basket. We knew that they couldn’t guard her, and if they couldn’t guard her, then they’re probably going to put her on the foul line and give her an and-one. And she knew, she embraced her role.”

Henderson scored 15 second-half points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, which accounted for more than half of South Carolina’s second-half production (29 points).

“She’s a quiet soul, a smooth operator,” Staley said of Henderson. “But she had a different look this tournament, because she knew it was going to be her last tournament.”

For Staley, Henderson’s success was the ultimate showcase of a player trusting in the process. As a freshman, Henderson played 15 minutes a game and averaged 5.5 points. During her sophomore year, Staley told Henderson that she was good enough to start, but she would still be coming off the bench. The next year, she started all 31 games and helped her team advance to a Final Four.

This year, she did even more.

“She never wavered,” Staley said of Henderson’s commitment to South Carolina.

On the biggest stage, Henderson’s faith paid off. Four years in a Gamecocks uniform, and she went out the way most players only dream of, with a piece of the championship net and a share of the NCAA trophy.

Eden Laase is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. She previously ran her own high school sports website in Michigan after covering college hockey and interning at Sports Illustrated. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.