Mississippi State's NCAA run might be sign of things to come

"It breathes a little life into women's basketball, knowing that it's not the same old, same old, same old UConn", South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.

A'ja Wilson and Allisha Gray both had double-doubles and the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs 67-55 to win the NCAA women's championship in an all-Southeastern Conference matchup of first-time finalists Sunday night.

Her play, as well as her story, has the nation talking from celebrities to on-air personalities.

South Carolina's A'ja Wilson drives to the hoop against Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan (15). As my athletic director reminded us, there were 347 teams today watching this game. "They inspire me", she said.

"The game officials chose to review the unobserved foul within the time frame, which came at the UConn team timeout called with 27 seconds to play in overtime", said June Courteau, the national coordinator of women's basketball officiating.

SC forward A'ja Wilson (22) drives around Mississippi State center Teaira McCowan (15) during the first half in the championship game of the NCAA women's Final Four college basketball tournament, Sunday, April 2, 2017, .

For 36 games, when the Huskies needed a basket they got one. Coach Schaefer said he is looking forward to the matchup of the game and knows the championship will not be easily won to avoid a 3-0 sweep from SC in the season.

Star Gamecocks junior forward A'ja Wilson spoke for many on Saturday morning when asked how odd it was that UConn was not playing on the final day of the women's college basketball season. She left her high school as a state champion when the Lady Huskies won the 6A crown in 2014. "I heard our fans more than I heard UConn's fans".

But here we are.

A jumper from McCowan would put the Bulldogs up 52-50 before Williams tied the game up at 52 for the Huskies.

"Coach, we want to go get 'em".

The Bulldogs couldn't muster the same effort against the Gamecocks.

"It's not up to one school", Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said Saturday.

"They're extremely tough", Coach Schaefer said. The game ended with William's jump shot over an outstretched Gabby Williams that will live always in Bulldog lore.

Be proactive - Use the "Flag as Inappropriate" link at the upper right corner of each comment to let us know of abusive posts. "That's who we wanted taking it". "What is your edge in this setting?" The last loss for the Bulldogs came at the hands of the Gamecocks in the SEC Tournament title game in Greenville, South Carolina last month, 59-49.

Once the final buzzer sounded, Staley grabbed the trophy and paraded it around the court high over her head.

How many coaches around the country, then, have watched this NCAA women's tournament with regret?

First, they went through the SEC, the conference that sent the most teams to the NCAA Tournament. That has opened driving lanes for the Gamecocks' uber-athletic guards. But she processes it, and she wants to get it right.

McCowan, back in her home state of Texas, also hauled in 8 rebounds while collecting two steals. The team responded and has averaged over 87 points per game in the NCAA tournament.

"They played really hard", UConn senior guard Saniya Chong said. They go off the bounce. "If we can decrease the amount of time that those plays are easy plays, I think it works in our favor". She's Blair's roommate. She's at my house more than any other player for dinner or whatever. She's been the glue to our team all year. It is. But for how the games played out, I mean, it's so close. Halfway through it was Victoria Vivians leading the charge for the Bulldogs with 12 points.

Now Schaefer and Mississippi State have to figure out a way to get past SC in the SEC and at the national level. She had a layup attempt blocked at the end of regulation. "It is how she's making those plays".

"I feel like it would be a flawless ending because we've never beat them", Victoria Vivians said. She was thrilled to help Staley get her first title. "We beat the greatest team with the greatest streak in the history of sports".

Wilson, a native SC player who was Staley's biggest recruit ever, was the key. We've had two knockdown, dragouts with them.

The final act of this SEC trilogy will be the same kind of theater if recent history serves as a guide.

"It was personal. We had to prove we're a much better team than previous year", said Victoria Vivians, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points.

  • Julie Sanders