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After heartbreaker, Mississippi State has new loss to avenge

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A 60-point loss to UConn in last year’s Sweet 16 fueled one of the biggest upsets in the country this year. What will a 12-point heartbreaker in the national championship do?

Dallas, TX -- “All good things must come to an end.”

If I could go back in time and berate Geoffrey Chaucer for penning this way-too-true quote into existence, I would.

But this was the case for the 2016-2017 NCAA women’s basketball season. And for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, as well.

Hail State captured a nation with a Morgan William overtime buzzer beater, and became the Cinderella Story of this year’s Final Four in Dallas. When it came right down to it, though, that magic had worn off.

Friday night’s Final Four matchup between Mississippi State and UConn had enough excitement and nail-biting turns in it to be the championship game. The Bulldogs could only ride that momentum for so long.

This was evidenced in the lackluster play of William, whom head coach Vic Schaefer benched in favor of Jazzmun Holmes.

“I thought we had a couple kids today that just didn’t quite have the energy level that we needed,” Schaefer said. “We got in so late Friday night. We’ve been trying to almost play catch-up since then.”

William had eight points on the night, as compared to her previous feat of 41 points against Baylor and the game-winner against UConn. Holmes tallied six. In addition, South Carolina’s Bianca Cuevas-Moore guarded William exceptionally, almost taking her presence out of the game completely and sacrificing taking shots in a national championship.

“She committed to impacting the game by picking Morgan William up,” said head coach Dawn Staley. “Being a New Yorker, being Bianca Cuevas, she likes to score the ball. She likes to throw a little sauce out there when she has the ball in her hands.

“She knew the game plan was to make it difficult for Morgan to operate in areas in which she could control their team.”

Cuevas-Moore only ended the night with five points, but was as much a presence and a factor as Gamecock sensation A’ja Wilson.

Hail State had a hard time stopping Wilson the first time these two teams played in SEC conference play. Wilson dropped 26 points en route to a 64-61 win for South Carolina when they first met. Taking her out of the equation Sunday was an absolute key for Mississippi State.

Nonetheless, Wilson tacked on her fifth double-double of the NCAA tournament, dropping 23 points and 10 rebounds. Mississippi State literally could not stop her.

“We’ve been dealing with her for three years,” said Ketara Chapel. “We had a hard time guarding her tonight. She’s a really great player, so it’s hard to try to match her intensity.”

I guess the committee doesn’t just give Most Outstanding Player to anyone.

Despite the 67-55 loss in the national championship to a team Mississippi State has faced three times this year, this team accomplished a lot. A disappointing end just adds the bitter to bittersweet.

In the end, nothing can take away the accomplishments this Bulldogs team had this year—and nothing ever should.

Would it have been entirely unprecedented to bring home Mississippi State’s first ever national championship in any sport? Yes. But is it the end of the road for this talented and incredibly driven team? No.

“I have a heck of a team coming back,” Schaefer said. “I have the 19th-ranked class in the country coming in. Don’t minimize this moment. How you feel, remember it. Wrap your arms around it and use it as fuel.”

Schaefer essentially built this team from the ground up, the journey marred with tough setbacks and defined by incredible feats.

And if anyone takes something away from this year’s Final Four, it’s that Mississippi State deserves the respect and attention as a national power going into 2017-2018. The underdog that took this year’s tournament by storm has a new image, and a new loss to avenge.

Yes, all good things must come to an end. But in this case, it’s only temporarily.