Dallas, TX — The second Final Four game to tip off featured UConn versus Mississippi State.
It has been a year since the Bulldog’s infamous 60-point loss to the Huskies in last year’s Sweet Sixteen. It is the biggest loss in NCAA Tournament history. Today is a chance for them to re-write their place in the record book -- which they did.
Though, it won’t be easy for Mississippi State to dethrone the defending National Champions. UConn not only holds that title, but they are also in the midst of a record 111-game win streak.
The Bulldogs were up for the challenge and they certainly came to play. They appeared to be the better team in the first period. They held UConn to their fewest points in a quarter this season with a score of 22-13. This is also the first time that the Huskies have trailed after the first period since December 4, 2016 against Texas.
The second stanza continued the same trend. Mississippi State scored a quick seven points. This included a three-pointer by Breanna Richardson, followed by a layup from Victoria Vivians that came about from a turnover by Katie Lou Samuelson.
Bulldogs up 29-13, just like everyone predicted.
UConn caught a big break after a questionable foul called on Dominique Dillingham. Crystal Dangerfield made one of the two subsequent free throws. Apparently, this was the spark that the Huskies needed. Gabby Williams responded by hitting a jumper, followed by Saniya Chong momentarily stealing the show. She scored seven consecutive points to close the gap.
Up 29-25, Vivians hit a jumper then moments later made a three-pointer to re-establish Mississippi State’s lead.
Free throws are what kept UConn within single digits for the remainder of the half. The Bulldogs go into the locker room with a 36-28 lead.
There are a few stats that stands out in the first half. First, is the fact that the Huskies had one offensive rebound. Also, the Bulldogs had 18 more shots.
To start the second half, UConn gave the first glimpse of the team that we know them as. They came out quick and went on a 7-0 run, highlighted by Samuelson’s three-pointer and spoiled by a free throw from Vivians.
The Huskies then picked things up where they left off and pulled within one after a three-pointer by Kia Nurse. They then got their first lead of the game at 40-39 with 6:14 in the third when Napheesa Collier hit a jumper.
Richardson tied things up with a free throw. Then teams traded off leads for the remainder of the period. At the end of the third, it was 48 apiece. Being in a tie heading into the fourth is another first for UConn.
The final period went without a score for nearly two minutes until Morgan William hit a jumper to give Mississippi State the lead. The missed shots were at an all-time high from both teams. Another minute-and-a-half went by before the ball made it in the basket. This time, it was Williams with two free throws to tie it up again.
McCowan hit a jumper, which she then followed up with a steal from Dangerfield. She missed the layup after tweaking her knee, causing her to leave the game.
A little while later, the Bulldogs got the first four-point lead of the fourth period after a layup by Vivians. Mississippi State went up 56-52 with 3:57 remaining in the game.
Samuelson had a response to that, swishing a three-pointer and closing the gap to just one. A pair of free throws from Chong gave UConn the lead. A steal and layup by Williams extended it to 59-56.
William hit a free throw to pull within two followed by Vivians draining a clutch three-pointer to take the lead. The Bulldogs were up 60-59 with 1:04 left on the clock.
A rebounding foul by Richardson sent Collier to the free throw late two shots. She missed the first but sank the second.
Tie game, 60-60 with 27 seconds.
Mississippi State's William got her last-second shot blocked by Williams and with that, this game went into overtime.
Five more minutes of basketball and the first points weren’t scored until there was 3:36 left. They came in the form of free throws from Richardson, giving the Bulldogs the lead once again.
The Huskies could not seem to find the basket. It was missed shot after missed shot. Whether it bounced off the backboard or rolled out, nothing was going in -- that is until Samuelson hit a jumper with 1:35 left.
Mississippi State responded with a layup by McCowan, which led to a UConn calling a time out with just over a minute on the clock.
The score: 64-62, Mississippi State.
With 26 seconds on the clock, UConn called a timeout. This gave the refs the opportunity to review a potential missed flagrant foul. They ended up calling the foul on Dillingham, allowing Samuelson to knock down two free throws and tie it up.
Moments later with 12.6 seconds left, Chong rushed the basket but was stopped by William. The ball went out of bounds, last touched by Chong giving the Bulldogs the ball.
Mississippi State had the final possession and William hit the buzzer beater.
Final score, 66-64.
Mississippi State Head Coach Vic Schaefer said, “Morgan had 41 against Baylor. Ain't any shots bigger than the one she hit tonight. But that's the shot we wanted. That's who we wanted taking it.”
Even UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma gave credit where it was due.
He said, “One play doesn't cost you a game. But a lot of times, you know, one play will win you a game. That's exactly what [William] did.”
What a difference a year makes! Just one year after the worst NCAA Tournament loss in history, the Bulldogs beat the very team that handed it to them and advance to the national championship.
Vivians said, “It was personal. We got beat by 60 last year. We had to prove that we’re a way better team that we were last year.”
Mission accomplished and redemption achieved.
Overtime may be the kiss of death for UConn. They’ve lost each of the last five overtime games that they’ve played. A disappointing ending to a remarkable season.
Coach Auriemma said, “Obviously, you know, when you get to this point in the season, and you lose, it's the worst feeling imaginable… Look, nobody's won more than we've won. 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.”
The Bulldogs don’t take this win lightly and they shouldn’t.
Coach Schaefer said, “Make no mistake, we beat a heck of a basketball team, the greatest of all time, with the best coach of all time. We're very proud of that.”
And just like that, Mississippi State is one win away from a national title and UConn’s win streak resets at zero.
Coach Schaefer said, “Last year I’m showing [the movie] Miracle. This year, I’m living it.”
Mississippi State will take on South Carolina on Sunday.