Women's Basketball

After giant upset, Mississippi State faces SEC rival South Carolina for NCAA title

Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs head coach Vic Schaefer gestures to fans as he leaves the court after the 66-64 win over UConn in an NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinal at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Friday, March 31, 2017.
Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs head coach Vic Schaefer gestures to fans as he leaves the court after the 66-64 win over UConn in an NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinal at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Friday, March 31, 2017. rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

Mississippi State lost to Connecticut by 60 points in last year’s NCAA Sweet 16, the largest margin ever in a NCAA women’s regional game.

“They have tremendous heart,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said of his team. “They also have a lot of pride. We had our pride stepped on last year.”

Just over a year later, the Bulldogs found redemption as Morgan William nailed a buzzer-beating 15-foot jumper in overtime to end UConn’s four-year reign 66-64 on Friday night at American Airlines Center.

The Huskies had won the past four national titles and an NCAA record 111 straight games.

“I feel like we earned respect. You know, people didn’t believe in us,” William said. “But it didn’t faze us. I feel like it showed we’re better than what everybody thinks.”

“We beat a heck of a basketball team, the greatest of all time, with the best coach (Geno Auriemma) of all time,” Schaefer said. “We’re very proud of that.”

Now the Bulldogs (34-4) are one win away from their first national championship at 5 p.m. Sunday (ESPN) at the AAC.

On the other end of the court will be a familiar face and another team looking for its first title: SEC rival South Carolina (32-4).

“We talked about it in the locker room after the UConn game, that there’s one more,” Schaefer said. “It’s funny, last year I’m showing ‘Miracle’ (about the 1980 U.S. hockey team’s upset of Russia followed by the gold-medal game against Finland) and this year now I’m having to live it, because there’s one more game.”

“They’re so familiar to us and we’re so familiar to them. We’re going into round three with South Carolina. We’ve had two knockdown, dragouts with them. (Coach) Dawn Staley has obviously done a tremendous job. It’s a great team.”

South Carolina has had Mississippi State’s number this season, winning both matchups. The Gamecocks won at home 64-61 on Jan. 23, and then 59-49 earlier this month to win the SEC tournament.

With a third meeting on Sunday night, prepping is a little easier, but not really.

“The games could have gone either way. We just made one or two more plays than they did in the fourth quarter of both games,” Staley said. “Is it hard to play somebody three times? It is. But for how the games played out, I mean, it’s so close. You can’t use that as bragging rights. And you’re playing for a national championship. You’ve got to throw all of that out the door.”

The Gamecocks clinched their first trip to the title game after their second-half rally to beat Stanford 62-53 in the first semifinal Friday.

“For what Mississippi State has done over the past five games, they’re much different than they were in the SEC championship,” Staley said.

South Carolina junior A’Ja Wilson, who had 13 points and 19 rebounds against Stanford, averaged 20.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the two games with Mississippi State.

“It is surreal honestly; this is a great feeling. I am blessed to be in this situation with a great group of girls,” Wilson said about being in the title game. “We work so hard during the season to get here and to finally be here it really is something special.”

William scored 18 points total in two games against South Carolina. She scored 13 against UConn after dropping a career-high 41 against Baylor to get to the Final Four.

“They’re playing at an all-time high,” Staley said. “Morgan William is playing some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen played in a player.”

Friday night’s late box

Miss. St.














MISSISSIPPI ST. (34-4)—Richardson 3-7 5-6 12, McCowan 5-9 0-0 10, Dillingham 0-3 0-0 0, Vivians 6-18 4-6 19, William 6-17 0-0 13, Chapel 1-2 0-0 2, Okorie 3-4 1-1 7, Holmes 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 1-5 0-0 3, Schaefer 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 25-67 10-13 66.

UCONN (36-1)—Collier 4-11 2-4 11, Samuelson 5-10 2-2 15, Williams 7-12 7-11 21, Chong 2-4 5-6 10, Nurse 2-8 0-0 6, Butler 0-0 0-0 0, Dangerfield 0-1 1-2 1, Totals 20-46 17-25 64.

3-Point Goals—Mississippi St. 6-22 (Richardson 1-2, Dillingham 0-1, Vivians 3-11, William 1-4, Johnson 1-2, Schaefer 0-2), UConn 7-15 (Collier 1-2, Samuelson 3-6, Chong 1-1, Nurse 2-6). Assists—Mississippi St. 11 (William 6), UConn 11 (Chong 5). Fouled Out—Mississippi St. Vivians, Rebounds—Mississippi St. 37 (McCowan 8), UConn 31 (Collier 8). Total Fouls—Miss. St. 23, UConn 15. A—19,202.

NCAA Championship

Mississippi State vs. South Carolina

American Airlines Center, Dallas

5 p.m. Sunday, ESPN

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