The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

William writes Bulldog history with Final Four upset

Dominique Dillingham brought the ball down and gave it to Morgan William. For 1.6 seconds, the world seemed like it had frozen to a halt. In the American Airlines Arena in Dallas, 19,202 fans, coaches, media stood still as William lifted up the contested short jumper as the time expired. The shot went in. The Mississippi State Bulldogs beat the Connecticut Huskies 66-64, ending their 111 game winning streak and advancing to the National Championship for the first time in program history.

William said the ball would be in her hands just in case the Huskies would foul, so she would go to the line. She is the best option for free throws for Mississippi State, but that was not what won the Bulldogs the game.

“He said, ‘Mo, you can win the game.” That’s what Morgan William said Head Coach Vic Schaefer told her before she entered the game with 12.6 seconds remaining on the clock. “When I made the shot, I was in shock,” William said. “I’m still in shock. I’m here like ‘Hey, I just won the game.”

The MSU Bulldogs won a hard fought battle against the No. 1 overall seeded UConn Huskies, beginning the game with early intensity on both sides of the ball.

Mississippi State opened up the first half with a dominant performance over UConn.  The Bulldogs’ smooth offensive chemistry gave them the upperhand, ending the first quarter on a 7-0 run to solidify a 22-13 first quarter lead. Head Coach Vic Schaefer said basketball is full of runs and knew that was the only way to gain the upperhand against UConn.

“We know the game is full of streaks,” Coach Schaefer said. “It was good that we had a streak that got us up that big. That’s hard to do against a great team.”

Morgan William opened the game up with five points and two rebounds. Breanna Richardson and Teaira McCowan tied for four points as the Bulldogs opened up with an impressive 22 points over the Huskies. The Bulldogs began penetrating the defensive front UConn established early. Their all around performance shook up the UConn’s usual offensive plans. Connecticut Head Coach Gene Auriemma said that there was no established rhythm in the first half which costed them the game overall.

“Normally, we’re a little more patient on offense,” Coach Auriemma said. “It was very disjointed. There no rhythm to our game. We usually have a tremendous flow.”

Head Coach Vic Schaefer said his plan for Mississippi State was to disrupt any normality in UConn’s strategies.

“Our defensive strategies was, you can’t let them do what they want to do, bottom line.” Coach Schaefer said.

On the perimeter, Victoria Vivians, Richardson and William helped Mississippi State overcome UConn’s overcrowding defense. Mississippi State bigs allowed them to score 12 second chance points, with putbacks from Okorie who finished the game with seven points and four rebounds and McCowan with ten points and eight rebounds. Mississippi State finished the game with 28 points in the paint.

The Bulldogs had a great offensive presence but their defense was met with performance mishaps. Foul trouble plagued the Mississippi State starters. Eight of the nine players who were on the floor had at least one foul, collecting 11 total in the first half.  Breanna Richardson and Victoria Vivians said that any fouls they were going to get, they had to make them count but still keep a steady defensive edge against the Huskies.

“Coach said even if we get a couple early fouls, make ‘em count,” Richardson said. “After that we just had to play smart. We can’t really think about fouls, just got to play smart in those situations.”

Victoria Vivians agreed that any foul must be a smart one to sacrifice for the team’s outcome in the game.

“Don’t take any plays off,” Vivians said. “If you got to foul at the end, make it, knowing you’re giving it your all.”

Teaira McCowan and Dominique Dillingham had two fouls early on, but Mississippi State’s depth helped them avoid UConn’s suffocating dominance.

The Bulldogs finished the first half in front 36-28. UConn tied their lowest first half score this year, when they scored 28 against the Tulane Green Wave. UConn’s offense peaked to start the second half, going on a 12-1 run as Coach Auriemma got the Huskies back to their original format of fast paced offense. Their tricky, puzzling offensive plays are made to create confusion amongst their contenders.

Their offense works as a mind game to leave someone open on the perimeter, allowing them to put points on the board for the Huskies. Mississippi State kept falling in the offensive trap, allowing UConn to outscore them 20-12 in the third quarter. Once Coach Schaefer decided to switch from zone defense to man to man, the Bulldogs closed many options for the Huskies, not allowing UConn to fight back as hard as they’d planned. Mississippi State’s aggressive defense put Huskie Gabby Williams in a rare position in scoring. Williams led the Huskies with 21 points. This is only her fourth time this season. Katie Lou Samuelson said Mississippi State’s defensive adjustment put the Huskies out of their offensive flow.

“Their defense was great on taking away our first, second, even third options sometimes,” Samuelson said. “I think they did a really great job.”

The discombobulation costed the Huskies the game. UConn had 17 turnovers, allowing Mississippi State to score twelve points from them. The Bulldogs also outrebounded the Huskies 37-31, 14 of the 37 being offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs scored 18 points from the put-back layups.

Four Bulldogs scored double digits in the win. Vivians led the Bulldogs with 19 points and McCowan led the team defensively, collected 8 rebounds. Vivians has scored in double figures in every game in the tournament getting back to her usual leadership role after having trouble scoring throughout the season.

Mississippi State’s 66-64 overtime win snaps UConn’s 111 game win streak, MSU’s Cinderella story will continue into the championship game when they face their SEC-rival South Carolina. In the 2016-17 season, Mississippi State is 0-2 against South Carolina. Coach Schaefer said the team will now put the historic win behind them and focus on the third matchup of the season with South Carolina’s Head Coach Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks.

“We’ve got one heck of a team to get ready for,” Coach Schaefer said. “It’s down to two of us. Southeastern Conference teams playing for the national championship. Hey, that’s pretty special.”
The Mississippi State Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks will play in the National Championship on Sunday, April 2 at 5 p.m. Both teams look to get their program’s first National Championship.
**This story has been updated.**

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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
William writes Bulldog history with Final Four upset