It’s hard to beat the same team three times in one season, but for South Carolina, Sunday’s win over Mississippi State was a little more special than the previous two meetings.
The Gamecocks clamped down on defense and blunted a second-half rally by the Bulldogs to win their first women’s basketball championship, 67-55 at the American Airlines Center.
“Our players stuck and executed the game plan, and South Carolina is a great defensive team and we hang our hats on that,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I’m proud of our players. It goes to show the commitment on that side of the ball. I’m so happy we could cut down the nets.”
Jazzmun (Holmes) was playing good today and Morgan (William) had her struggles early. We just had a couple kids that didn’t quite have the energy that we needed today.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, on why William played only 23 minutes, and none in the fourth quarter
Leading 45-31 with 5:41 left in the third, the Gamecocks (33-4) were held scoreless for more than two minutes. The Bulldogs used a 9-0 run to get within four points at 48-44 and 54-50, but no closer.
With a 54-50 lead and 6:54 remaining, South Carolina scored the next four points that forced a Mississippi State timeout. A’Ja Wilson had three straight layups for the Gamecocks, turning a 60-52 lead into a 66-52 lead with 1:40 left.
“From an offensive standpoint, we had to attack the paint,” Staley said. “Mississippi State is a very good defensive team, and we wanted to push them back on their heels.”
Wilson, voted Most Outstanding Player, finished with a game-high 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting, 10 rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
“I knew I needed an impact on the game and that was my mindset going into it,” Wilson said.
Mississippi State started strong with seven of the first eight points of the game, but like the other two meetings, South Carolina pushed back.
Jazzmun Holmes gave the Bulldogs a 14-12 lead with 2:46 left in the first quarter, but the Gamecocks scored the next nine. Allisha Gray tied the game at 14-14 and four free throws later, South Carolina was up 18-14 going into the second.
The scoring drought for the Bulldogs (34-5) continued two minutes into the second quarter until Morgan William ended South Carolina’s 9-0 run and made it 21-16 with 7:59 to go in the half.
The Gamecocks increased their run to 13-2 to go up 25-16 just a minute later, and held the Bulldogs scoreless for over five minutes and never trailed again. They led by as much as 13 points before going into halftime with a 36-26 advantage.
Mississippi State trailed 42-28 early in the third, but slowly chipped away, starting with a 3-pointer from Dominique Dillingham at the six-minute mark.
“I really want to congratulate South Carolina, they played really well today,” Mississippi State Vic Schaefer said. “Obviously we’ve had hard times dealing with them this season and today was no different.”
Gray (18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks) was voted to the All-Tournament team along with Wilson for South Carolina. The others were UConn’s Gabby Williams and Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians and William — whose buzzer beater knocked off UConn. William didn’t play in the final 11:33 on Sunday.
From an offensive standpoint, we had to attack the paint. Mississippi State is a very good defensive team, and we wanted to push them back on their heels.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who became the first former MOP Final Four player to coach an NCAA champion
“Jazzmun was playing good today and Morgan had her struggles early,” Schaefer said. “We just had a couple kids that didn’t quite have the energy that we needed today.”
South Carolina had beaten Mississippi State 64-61 in the regular season and then 59-49 to win the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs shocked four-time defending champion Connecticut in overtime on Friday.
“Today wasn’t our best day and it takes nothing away from our 34-5 season,” Schaefer said. “Today doesn’t define us — this team had one heck of a year.”
The Gamecocks became the fifth team to win a national title without a 3-pointer (0 of 3), and gives the SEC its ninth national championship, but first not from Tennessee, which won the last of its eight in 2008.
MISSISSIPPI ST. (34-5)—Richardson 1-5 2-2 4, McCowan 2-6 3-4 7, Dillingham 5-10 0-0 11, Vivians 4-16 3-4 12, William 2-6 4-4 8, Chapel 1-2 2-2 4, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Okorie 1-1 0-0 2, Allen 0-0 1-2 1, Holmes 3-5 0-0 6, Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Schaefer 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 19-55 15-18 55.
SOUTH CAROLINA (33-4)—Wilson 9-15 5-6 23, Cuevas-Moore 2-6 1-2 5, Davis 4-12 2-2 10, Gray 7-15 4-5 18, Harris 2-4 2-3 6, Herbert Harrigan 0-1 1-2 1, Bradshaw 0-0 0-0 0, Cliney 1-2 2-2 4, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 25-55 17-22 67.
3-Point Goals—Mississippi St. 2-12 (Richardson 0-1, Dillingham 1-2, Vivians 1-5, William 0-1, Johnson 0-1, Schaefer 0-2), South Carolina 0-3 (Davis 0-2, Gray 0-1). Assists—Mississippi St. 8 (William 4), South Carolina 7 (Cuevas-Moore 2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Mississippi St. 27 (McCowan 10), South Carolina 40 (Wilson 10). Total Fouls—Mississippi St. 19, South Carolina 14. A—19,229.