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All-SEC showdown: Stars ready for hardest test

Today is the day, the biggest prize of the season: the National Championship. Neither, South Carolina nor Mississippi State has played in the title game before. Who will make history tonight and win the university's first National Championship?

Dallas, TX — The stage for the national championship is set and it’s a SEC showdown. The South Carolina Gamecocks will meet the Mississippi State Bulldogs, where both programs are in search of their first-ever national title.

South Carolina is 2-0 against the Bulldogs this season, but that doesn’t guarantee a third win. The Gamecocks know this and are making sure they’re not underestimating them. Especially after the way Mississippi State earned their spot in the finals – a buzzer beater in overtime to upset UConn and ruin their 111-game win streak.

Speaking of that final play, how did the players react?

South Carolina players were beyond impressed.

A’ja Wilson said, “I don’t even have words. I was like ‘oh my goodness’. But power to Morgan [William].”

Kaela Davis said, “You couldn’t draw it up any better honestly. That’s what March is all about… we’re proud it was a SEC team and we’re proud to have two SEC teams in the championship game."

Allisha Gray said, “Of course everyone expected the expected. But Mississippi State came to play. Morgan – she’s been hot. It just shows the power of the SEC.”

For Mississippi State, Dominique Dillingham said, “We just kind of stared at the basket like ‘did that really just go in?’ It was crazy. Everyone ran to [Morgan] and we had a dog pile. It’s surreal, but it happened.”

But that moment was more than just a historical game-winning shot. It was a defining moment for women and sports.

Wilson said, “It’s not very often that you see women’s basketball as the top ESPN play or that you see it trending everywhere on social media. So as a female basketball player, seeing that created a lot of excitement for me. There wasn’t excitement knowing I’m playing that team next, but as a basketball fan and especially as a woman, it was really encouraging.”

Gray said, “It feels great to know that women’s basketball is getting recognition. And with a sold-out crowd. You don’t see that for a lot of women’s games so that shows we’re having some progress.

As exciting as that moment was for Mississippi State, they knew that they still had another game to play.

Victoria Vivians said, “We celebrated, but we came back down from it real fast. We got to the hotel where the fans were cheering us on then Coach took us to the meeting room and he said ‘Celebrate tonight but in the morning be ready to work’.”

Morgan William said, “It feels like we won it all after that game last night, but we didn’t. We still have unfinished business. For us to be playing South Carolina, we are getting another chance. We had another chance with UConn and now we get another opportunity against South Carolina but it’s on a bigger scale and it means more."

Playing a team three times in one season isn’t easy in any sport.

Gray said, “It’s very difficult because each time you play them, they’re better. Three different situations. They’re going to come out and be ready to play. We’ve just got to be ready to compete too.”

William said, “First two games we lost. The first game was close. Second game, I put it on me. I had seven turnovers. This game I’m not going to have seven turnovers. I’m going to make sure I give my teammates good looks, shots, and opportunities.”

No matter the outcome, players on both teams are just trying to enjoy the overall experience.

Davis said, “This is definitely why I made the choice to come to South Carolina. To be in this moment now.”

Dillingham, who is playing in her final game as a Bulldog, said, “It means everything. It’s crazy that it’s almost over. Who would have thought that we’d be here? Nobody believed in us, but we’ve believed in ourselves all this time. It’s amazing to end my career here in Texas where it all started and it’s amazing to be competing for a National Championship.”

The game takes place tonight at 5 p.m. CT on ESPN2.