“We’re on talking terms,” she said.
Wilson is now a victory away from a third trip to the Final Four. Second-seeded South Carolina (29-6) and top-seeded Connecticut (35-0) will meet Monday in the highly anticipated final of the Albany Region, the past two national champions vying to reach the national semifinals on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
Hers is an impeccable résumé but for one omission: In four tries, Wilson has never defeated UConn, an 11-time champion and the standard by which the women’s game is measured.
Outside of South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ 2017 N.C.A.A. championship carried a whiff of anticlimax, coming 48 hours after Mississippi State had stunned UConn in the semifinals, snapping the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak on a jumper by Morgan William in the final seconds of overtime.
“I think A’ja’s thunder was a little bit stolen last year because they weren’t the team that took UConn down,” said Lexie Brown, a Duke guard who is friends with Wilson. “If you weren’t an avid women’s basketball watcher, you probably thought Mississippi State won the national championship.”
Finally defeating UConn in her senior season, Brown said, would ratify Wilson’s stature as the best player in the country “and would be the cherry on top of her amazing career.”
Credit Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press
Scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in communications, Wilson is gregarious, funny, open, often leading her team in dances. She is the product of a family of preachers, educators and civil-rights activists devoted to helping the less fortunate.
On Saturday, she revealed an aspect of herself that was not widely known outside her team. In an essay posted on The Players’ Tribune, Wilson wrote that she has long struggled with dyslexia. Once afraid to admit weakness, she said on Sunday that she felt liberated to have acknowledged vulnerability.
“It’s lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders,” she said. “It’s great feeling because it shows people I’m human.”
A transformational moment came during her sophomore season at South Carolina, Wilson wrote in her Players’ Tribune essay, when Coach Dawn Staley began having her read aloud from Scripture in the locker room before games.
“It was definitely humiliating at first, but I kept at it. Just straight brute force, every time she asked,” Wilson wrote. “I don’t know if she thought it would help, or if it would make me play better, or what. But after a while, it really would make me feel better. It was like I could suddenly talk with people about this secret that had been eating at me for years.”
Wilson also confronted a separate vulnerability before her teammates this season. On Feb. 1, South Carolina lost at home to UConn, 83-58. Wilson felt distracted and shot only 4 for 18 from the field. Afterward, she apologized publicly to her teammates. It has sometimes been difficult, she said Sunday, to focus on carrying her team while looking ahead to the W.N.B.A. and preparing for graduation.
“I felt awful,” Wilson said of the loss to UConn. “That was just not me. I didn’t want my teammates to feel like it was their fault.”
Her struggle that night, Wilson said, revealed to herself and her teammates that she was not invincible.
“I kind of think people get caught up in the ‘basketball A’ja’ and just think she is a robot,” Wilson said. “She’s far from that. This showed them, dang, she is real.”
Sure, she would like to defeat UConn on Monday, she said, not for personal validation but because the Huskies stand as a roadblock to the Final Four. And for those on social media who suggest that South Carolina’s national championship was something lesser because it did not include a victory over UConn, Wilson said, “You can’t take my banner away from me. You can’t take my ring away from me.”
Asked if defeating UConn on Monday would feel as satisfying as winning a national championship, Wilson laughed and said, “A national championship is a pretty good feeling. I don’t know if it’s going to be the same. I probably won’t cry as much.”