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Maybe, somewhere in the back of their minds, their semifinal game having been won, there was hope in the South Carolina locker room for a rematch. You know, getting a shot at Stanford, the team that knocked it from the Final Four last year.

But this is better.

Sunday night at Target Center, South Carolina will play Connecticut for the NCAA women's basketball championship.

You can pick from the storylines:

Two coaches — UConn's Geno Auriemma and South Carolina's Dawn Staley— both Philadelphia-raised, both having won at the NCAA and Olympic levels.

Two players — Aliyah Boston and Paige Bueckers — who have won the last two player of the year awards, with UConn's Bueckers trying to win it all in her backyard.

Two teams that are a perfect 12-0 in title games. (Though, to be fair, Connecticut has 11 of those).

Here's more: "To me this has become the best rivalry in women's college basketball,'' said Rebecca Lobo, who will be part of the ESPN broadcast team Sunday.

Lobo pointed to South Carolina's win against Connecticut in the Bahamas early this season. Or the epic, overtime Connecticut win in Storrs last season, a game in which Boston had 17 points and 15 rebounds and Bueckers scored 31.

Auriemma has been around long enough to cultivate more than a few arch-nemeses. Once it was Pat Summitt and Tennessee. Then Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame.


"Now it's South Carolina, in my eyes,'' said Lobo, who was on the first UConn title team, here in Minneapolis, in 1995. "These are the two programs that are still fighting for the top spot. Would South Carolina-Stanford have been a great matchup? Absolutely. But, to me, this matchups we have is more of a rivalry.''

And, frankly, everyone seems fine with that.

"I think it's great,'' Staley said when asked about her matchup with Auriemma. "I think any time you're in this position to compete for a national championship, it's a pretty big deal. Geno, he had a legendary career.''

Back at you: "I think anybody who builds a program that can get to the Final Four and win a national championship and put themselves in the position to do that multiple times has been able to do it by building a solid foundation,'' Auriemma said. "…And once you do that, then that train is going, and it's not going to stop as long as she's there.''

The two teams have taken different paths. South Carolina has been ranked No. 1 in the country since the preseason. Connecticut had to navigate through injuries, most notably to Bueckers, and something of a mid-season lull.

But they're here, ready for Round 2, the first being South Carolina's 73-57 victory in the Bahamas, when the Gamecocks held the Huskies to three fourth-quarter points.

"I think we're completely different team than the first time we played there,'' Bueckers said.

The Gamecocks have to slow UConn's backcourt of Azzi Fudd and Bueckers. UConn has to figure out a way to slow Boston, who had 23 points and 18 rebounds in the semifinals; when asked how he'd do it, Auriemma said he was open to suggestion.

But seriously: given the rivalry, what better way for the season to end?

"It's incredible,'' Fudd said. "It's how we started, in the Bahamas, and how our year is going to end.''

Said Boston: "People in the crowd were probably hoping for this game. We were just trying to make sure we were in the national championship game. We've worked hard the entire season for this game on Sunday.''