DALLAS – The shot that toppled UConn, ending a streak of 111 straight wins, came from the shortest player on the winning team. As she has done throughout the NCAA tournament, junior guard Morgan William made crucial shots to help her team advance in heroic. Friday night, her team took down Goliath, beating previously undefeated Connecticut 66-64 in overtime.
The Bulldogs got off to an impressive start and kept their composure throughout the game, never losing their cool. Junior guard Victoria Vivians put Mississippi State (34-4) in the scoring column first with a three-pointer. In that first quarter, the Bulldogs put UConn (36-1) on notice that this was not going to be business as usual for the women’s basketball titans from New England.
While other teams have often looked defeated versus UConn before the tip, settling to avoid getting blown out, it was obvious from the get go that the Bulldogs were not in the least bothered by the mystique that has surrounded UConn since November 2014, the last time the Huskies lost a game before Friday night.
With a 22-13 lead after the first quarter, Mississippi State made it clear that a championship banner that did not say UConn might be hanging in the rafters after the national championship. While UConn managed to outscore the Bulldogs in the second quarter, 15-14, it was not enough to gain a lead. The Bulldogs went into the locker room at halftime with largest halftime lead over the Huskies during their 111-win streak, 36-28.
In the third quarter, the Huskies woke up and outpaced the Bulldogs 20-12 to make it a tie game going into the fourth quarter. The teams were sluggish on offense in the last regulation quarter, matching each other point for point leading to the need for an overtime session. In those last five minutes the Bulldogs shined.
UConn sophomore forward Napheesa Collier fouled Mississippi State senior forward Breanna Richardson. The older player made both of her free throws to give her team the early advantage in overtime. UConn was not out for the count yet. It was a back and forth battle and the teams were tied in the last 13 seconds. After a timeout, Morgan William came out the huddle blazing and oblivious to the defense of UConn to fire off a game-winning jumper that sent the crowd in a tizzy. David slayed Goliath and after reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history, the Bulldogs took it to another level landing in the championship game to face fellow Southeastern Conference member, the South Carolina Gamecocks, Sunday night.
William finished with 13 points and six assists. Vivians led the team with 19 points plus four rebounds. Richardson contributed 12 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore center Teaira McCowan was also in double figures with 10 points plus eight rebounds.
UConn had four players in double figures led by junior forward Gabby Williams’ 21 points eight rebounds and four blocks. Sophomore forward Katie Lou Sameulson added 15 points and five rebounds. Collier scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Senior guard Saniya Chong finished her college career with 10 points and five assists.
The game was the first overtime contest since the 2012 national semifinal when Notre Dame defeated UConn 83-75.
“Well, obviously that was one heck of a great basketball game…” said Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer in summarizing the contest postgame. “Two great teams.”
He went on to jokingly chastise the media for possibly overlooking his team.
“What an unbelievable, gutsy performance that no one in the country, including all of y’all, probably thought could happen. And that’s okay. But we knew it could happen. You see, you have to be careful when you start talking about people that you really don’t know about. If all you’re doing is evaluating what you see on TV, and you don’t really know what’s inside somebody’s breastplate, you better be careful about evaluating them.”
Friday’s outcome was a far cry from the last time the two teams faced each other. UConn bounced the Bulldogs out of the NCAA Tournament last season by 60 points in the Sweet 16. That 98-38 loss was on the minds of Mississippi state players and Schaefer who said his team getting beat so bad by UConn was personal.
“Like Coach said, it was personal,” exclaimed Vivians postgame. “We got beat by 60 last year. We had to prove that we’re a way better team than we were last year.”
William knows that her team is now in the spotlight.
“I feel like we earned respect tonight,” she said. “You know, people didn’t believe in us. But it didn’t faze us. We just had to go out there and play. I feel like it showed we’re better than what everybody thinks.”
When the Bulldogs face the Gamecocks, it will be the first time teams from the same conference will meet in the title game since 2013 when UConn and Louisville competed for the championship.