Mississippi State

Dawn Staley, South Carolina win women's NCAA Tournament over Mississippi State

Dawn Staley, South Carolina win women's NCAA Tournament over Mississippi State

DALLAS -- Dawn Staley is going to savor her first NCAA championship. It took her a long time to finally be able to raise the trophy over her head.

A'ja Wilson scored 23 points to help coach Staley and South Carolina win their first national championship with a 67-55 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday night.

Staley made the Final Four three times as a player at Virginia but never won. She also led the Gamecocks to the national semifinals two years ago before losing to Notre Dame.

"It means that I can check off one of the things that had been a void in my career," said Staley wearing the championship net around her neck in the postgame press conference. "Something I wanted to do. It was one of two opportunities that I saw women play when I was younger -- national championship games and Olympics. Those were things that I held dear and near to me growing up. Those were the things I saw and were shooting for."

Wilson, a native South Carolina player who was Staley's biggest recruit ever, was the key. She was thrilled to help Staley get her first title.

"I can't put into words how much it meant to win the game for coach," Wilson said. "She's put in so much time and sweat into this. ... It really means something special to bring this back home for such a great person like coach Staley."

Once the final buzzer sounded, Staley had a long group hug with her coaching staff and then grabbed the trophy and paraded it around the court high over her head. She cut down the final piece of the net, waving it to the huge throng of Gamecocks fans while Wilson and Kaela Davis danced with the South Carolina band playing.

"You have to give tribute to the former players," Staley said. "Go back to my Temple days, they believed in our vision. We took that vision to South Carolina and that vision was we'll be national champions. If you stick with us and if you're disciplined, if you believe all these players believed in that. Happy our words came true to them."

Staley became just the second African-American coach to win a national championship. She joined Carolyn Peck, who won a title at Purdue.

Mississippi State had all the momentum on its side after a shocking win over UConn on Friday night that ended the Huskies' record 111-game winning streak. The Bulldogs couldn't muster the same effort against the Gamecocks. Morgan William, who had become the face of the tournament with the game-winner against the Huskies after a 41-point performance against Baylor, was held to just 8 points.

South Carolina (33-4) turned a 10-point halftime lead into a 45-31 advantage midway through the third quarter before the Bulldogs rallied. Mississippi State (34-5) slowly cut into its deficit, getting with 54-50 on Jazzmun Holmes' jumper. That brought a huge cheer from the thousands of Mississippi State fans who made the 8-hour trip from Starkville, Mississippi.

But that's as close as the Bulldogs could get.

The victory in front of a sellout crowd came one day after the Gamecocks men's basketball team lost in the Final Four in Phoenix.

Wilson, who grew up in South Carolina, blocked a shot on one end of the court and then hit a short jumper in the lane that started a 12-2 run to put the game away. Staley emptied her bench with less than a minute left and Wilson left with tears of joy. The junior center sees a repeat in the future for the Gamecocks, who return most of their core players.

"Man, just be with us next year, we're trying to be in this same spot next year, we're going to see how it goes," Wilson said after winning the most outstanding player award for the Final Four.

The Gamecocks won the title without star center Alaina Coates, who hurt her ankle in the SEC Tournament. She didn't even travel with the team to Dallas.

"Our players never fretted, `La' we got you a ring. We got you a ring," Staley said of Coates. "Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis they all believed in it. They spent a year getting to know our team, getting to know our system. Got the opportunity to play and we become national champions. It's incredible belief and discipline and can't thank them enough for choosing South Carolina."

It was the third loss for the Bulldogs against the Gamecocks this season. Mississippi State dropped a game in South Carolina in the regular season as well as the SEC Tournament title game.

"Today doesn't define us," said Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, who is 0-9 in his career against South Carolina. "It certainly doesn't define this team or this season. We had a heck of a year. Obviously we've had some hard times dealing with them. Today was no different."

No team had a tougher road to the championship then the second-seeded Bulldogs. They were trying to become the third team in NCAA history to beat three number No. 1 seeds en route to the title. Tennessee did it in 1987 and Louisiana Tech accomplished the same feat a year later. The Bulldogs had already knocked off top-seed Baylor and UConn to get to the championship game.

This was the sixth time in NCAA Tournament history that teams from the same conference played for the national championship, including three by the SEC. Tennessee won both of those matchups, the last coming in 1996 when the Lady Vols beat Georgia.

UConn women's 111-game winning streak ends, Miss St wins at buzzer

UConn women's 111-game winning streak ends, Miss St wins at buzzer

DALLAS -- When the final shot beat the buzzer and UConn's record streak was over, Geno Auriemma had to smile.

After all the winning, the Huskies coach could appreciate a thrilling victory -- even from the other side.

UConn's 111-game run came to a stunning end when Mississippi State pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in women's basketball history, winning 66-64 on Morgan William's overtime jumper in the national semifinals Friday night.

"You know what? When stuff like this happens, it kind of makes me shake my head and go, `You know how many times this could have happened and it didn't happen?'" Auriemma said. "The fact that it never happened, that doesn't mean I went home thinking it's never going to happen. I knew this was coming at some point."

"I'm just shocked that it took this long to get here," he said.

The Huskies hadn't lost in 865 days, with that defeat coming to Stanford in overtime on Nov. 17, 2014. Winning had become routine, often by routs. But in an instant, their drive toward a fifth consecutive national championship had been blocked.

When William's jumper dropped, Auriemma broke into that wry smile. He turned to his bench, then went to congratulate the Bulldogs.

"I just kind of shook my head. This kid's had an incredible run," Auriemma said. "When it went in, it was almost like, of course. Of course, it's going to go in."

"Look, nobody's won more than we've won," he said. "I understand losing, believe it or not. We haven't lost in a while, but I understand it. I know how to appreciate when other people win."

It took an incredible shot by Mississippi State's diminutive point guard to end the historic streak.

William hit a 15-footer to cap it, moments after a replay review awarded UConn two free throws for a flagrant 1 foul call that tied the game with 26.6 seconds left.

"I live for moments like this," William said. "UConn, they're an incredible team. For me to make that shot against them, it's unbelievable. I'm still in shock right now. I wanted to take the shot. I wanted to take the shot and I made it."

William's shot came one game after she scored a career-high 41 points to help Mississippi State beat Baylor and advance to its first Final Four.

The Bulldogs (34-4) will play South Carolina for the national championship Sunday night in a matchup of two SEC teams.

Mississippi State and UConn met in the Sweet 16 last season and the Huskies won by 60 points -- the most-lopsided win in regional semifinals history. All season long the Bulldogs had that humiliating loss on their minds.

Now they've erased that defeat, beating UConn (36-1) on the grandest stage in one of the sport's greatest games.

"I don't have to play them 100 times. Only have to beat them once," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "That is one heck of a basketball team, the greatest of all-time. But how proud am I of my kids?"

Mississippi State led 64-62 before a replay review gave Katie Lou Samuelson the two free throws that tied the game. After a UConn turnover, William held the ball at the top of the key before dribbling to her right and pulling up for the shot, with the ball in the air when the buzzer sounded.

The Bulldogs ran onto the court, piling up at center court while UConn players stood stone-faced. Schaefer grabbed William in a bear hug, with former Mississippi State star Dak Prescott -- the Dallas Cowboys quarterback -- helping lead the cheers in a sellout crowd.

Prescott said he'd try to come back Sunday for the title game.

UConn rallied from a 16-point deficit, its biggest during its NCAA record streak, to take a 59-56 lead in the fourth quarter. The teams were tied at 60 when the Bulldogs had a chance to win it in regulation, but William's shot was blocked by Gabby Williams, sending the game into overtime.

"Maybe we're just not ready for this. Maybe we were ready for everything else, but maybe we're just not mature enough for this," Auriemma said. "Maybe all our young kids needed to experience this so that we can come back and really be ready for this."

Neither team scored much in OT with Teaira McCowan's layup with 1:12 left in the extra session breaking a 62-62 tie. It was the lone basket for Mississippi State in OT until William's game-winner.

During their last two decades of dominance where they've won 11 national championships, the Huskies rarely found themselves trailing -- let alone by double-digits. This was the first time this season that UConn was losing in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs got off to a great start, taking it right at the Huskies like not many teams had done during the streak. The Bulldogs led 15-13 before scoring 14 straight points to go up 29-13. It was the biggest deficit UConn had faced during its historic streak and one of the largest during the last 22 years, which the Huskies have dominated with 11 national championships.

The Huskies rallied to within 29-25 as senior Saniya Chong scored seven points during a 12-0 run. Mississippi State answered and was up 36-28 at the half.

UConn came back in the third quarter behind its trio of All-Americans with Williams, Napheesa Collier and Samuelson keying a 12-3 run to start the second half. That run brought Huskies alums Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore, who were sitting 20 rows behind the UConn bench, to their feet.

"We had an incredible run, but we came up against a much better team tonight," Auriemma said.

Streak buster
The loss ended a 28-game NCAA Tournament winning streak for UConn. The last loss came to Notre Dame in 2012 in the Final Four. That was the last OT game in the national semifinals.

Quarterback connection
Prescott wasn't the only QB in attendance on Friday night. Donovan McNabb was also in Dallas, cheering on niece Kia Nurse, who stars for Connecticut. Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was supporting his sister Anna, who is a freshman at Stanford in the first game.

Good Morning Mississippi
Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts was sitting at center court. She was cheering on the Bulldogs, who hail from her home state. Roberts brought out a Bulldogs jersey on her morning show.