Redemption secured: Bulldogs upset mighty Huskies
For four years, the University of Connecticut had not met a task too big to overcome.
Mississippi State was one of the 111-straight opponents that UConn had beaten over the course of that stretch and the Bulldogs were 19-point underdogs entering Friday night’s Final Four matchup.
What the Huskies didn’t know is that MSU likes being the underdog just fine.
The Bulldogs pulled off one of the most thrilling and improbable upsets in the history of women’s college basketball to become the one in 111-1.
“That was one heck of a basketball game,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “What an unbelievable, gutsy performance that no one in the country knew it could happen, but we knew it can happen.”
Morgan William, the same player that poured in 41 points against Baylor, dribbled towards the goal as the clock winded to zero and swished the mid-range jumper at the buzzer to end the streak and send the Bulldogs to the national championship with a 66-64 overtime win.
“Coach told me, ‘Morg, you’re going to win the game,” William said. “I made the shot and I was in shock. I can’t thank my teammates enough because I couldn’t be playing the way I am without them.”
William followed up her 41 points last Sunday with 13 points in 44 minutes turning the basketball over twice and adding six assists. She was 6-of-17 from the field but again came up big.
The 5-5 point guard was anything but a one-woman show. MSU had 19 points from Victoria Vivians before she fouled out in overtime. Senior Breanna Richardson was strong with 12 points and seven rebounds and Teaira McCowan had 10 points and eight boards.
MSU’s biggest win was on the defensive side. UConn shot 43 percent from the field, but was turned over 17 times. There were rarely open looks provided.
“The whole team contributed,” William said. “We did a good job turning them over. They have 25 assists a game and they only had 11 (Friday). It played out good.”
The Bulldogs came out swinging right away when Vivians hit a 3-pointer for the early 3-0 lead. They wouldn’t trail the rest of the half after that shot.
Despite McCowan picking up two early fouls, MSU was dominant on the boards after the first quarter ended with a 22-13. They had 14 rebounds to the Huskies’ five and the defense was stifling the mighty UConn.
At the start of the second quarter, the Bulldogs continued that momentum. A quick 5-0 spurt followed by a steal and layup by Vivians suddenly had MSU up 16. The Huskies made their run scoring 12-straight points and getting the game back to four. State answered with a 7-1 run and settled in to a 36-28 halftime lead.
Things started to unravel for MSU on both ends of the floor early in the third. UConn began hitting shots and went on a 12-1 run to take its first lead of the game at 40-39 with 6 minutes left in the third.
State settled back down, however. The Bulldogs finished the quarter in a back-and-forth battle and it was all squared at 48 heading to the final 10 minutes.
As things continued to stay nip and tuck, MSU's defense started to really push its own offense. Vivians had a spinning layup with the shot clock running down to push MSU’s lead to 56-52 with 3:52 remaining and the capacity crowd at the arena came to its feet as Geno Auriemma called for timeout.
The Huskies came out of the timeout with seven-straight points to go from a four-point deficit to a 59-56 lead with 2 minutes left. UConn thought that might put MSU away but it wouldn’t. Vivians had the lead back on a 3 with 1 minute left.
After UConn hit a free throw to tie it at 60, Schaefer got to draw up one final play with 20 seconds left. William was the one who had the basketball in her hands and her drive inside was well defended as it went off the rim and the two teams were headed to overtime.
Things continued to go back and forth with McCowan’s layup with 1 minute left giving MSU the 64-62 lead. With 26 seconds left, the Huskies had a chance to tie or take the lead.
The referees went to the monitors and reviewed a previous play giving UConn’s Katie Lou Samuelson two free throws for a flagrant foul on Dominique Dillingham and two free throws tied it at 64 with MSU getting a final shot with 12 seconds.
William had the final say as she hit the floater to send the crowd into a frenzy and MSU to the championship.
“It’s never easy for us," Schaefer said. "There’s always something that comes up. They always find a way. Morgan had 41 against Baylor but none of them were bigger than the one she made (Friday).”
The win sends the Bulldogs to its first-ever national championship on Sunday at 5 p.m. Ahead of them is Southeastern Conference rival South Carolina, which has won both meetings this season. The Gamecocks beat Stanford 62-53 to get to the final game.