Overtime, check. Game winning shot in a one possession game, check. A 111-game winning streak that lasted 865 days busted, check. It’s a very rare formula, but like Stanford back in 2014, the Mississippi State Bulldogs did what every team in the game had failed to do. Beat the Connecticut Huskies.
It was a monumental night in the world of Womens College Basketball, the Connecticut Huskies fell to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in a riveting Final Four matchup. Morgan Williams, who dropped 41 points to lead her team past Baylor just a weekend ago came up big once again for her team when they needed her most. Generously listed at 5’5, the dynamite diminutive guard hit the shot heard round the world. After being denied the ball, she finally got free and used a high screen to free her from her defender. Connecticut’s Gabby Williams (21 points, 8 rebounds) had blocked William’s game winning attempt at the end of regulation at the rim. This time, Williams pulled up and released a soft jump shot over the extremely athletically gifted Williams that found the bottom of the net ever so softly. Her shot gave the Bulldogs the 66-64 overtime victory over the now former reigning champions. Busting the Connecticut streak isn’t the only historic feat of the night, Mississippi State heads to their first National Title game in school history.
Wiliams was amazing, but it was the poise of her and her team that got this done. That and flat out pride and the need to avenge a horrific loss to a different Husky team last year, when that special class of Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck, and Moriah Jefferson led Uconn to a 60 point drubbing of Mississippi State.
That wasn’t the case last night, there was no Stewie, Tuck or Jefferson and it was a different Bulldog team. They punched first to start the game and never stopped swinging. They knocked the Huskies on their heels and only got hit by a few counter punches, their defense was a big factor. Their ball pressure kept a Uconn team that thrives off ball movement due to them lacking a dynamic player that can break down a defense, off balance all night. Nearly every shot was contested and that high post action that the Huskies typically operate so smoothly out of was disrupted time and time again.
Poise. The Huskies weren’t patient enough on the offensive end or defensive end, the Bulldogs were quite the opposite. They didn’t start to run their offense until about 15 seconds on the shot clock on average. Even then, the offense was crisp more often than not and when it wasn’t they made up for it by pounding the glass. The Huskies were an undersized team (generous to say the least) most of his season, they were able to make up for it with athleticism and fight much of the year. While the rebounding edge wasn’t won by a huge total outright, 37-31 in favor of the Bulldogs, it was drastically swayed on the offensive glass. Mississippi State lived off of second chance points, hauling in 14 offensive rebounds to just 6 for Uconn.
The Bulldogs will go on to face a very familiar foe in the National Championship game, as it’s an all SEC matchup for the rights for being crowned the new National Champions. South Carolina and their all-world big Aja Wilson await the Williams led Bulldogs. As wonderful as last night’s game was, to see the streak end, there’s still one more magical game in this great season.
Williams. It was so much more than hitting “the shot” for her, she did a wonderful job of controlling the tempo of the game. Never allowing her team to get into a running match with the Huskies. She was also a pest on the defensive end, refusing to let Saniya Chong or any other Husky player near her to have space to pass the ball. It was Williams that forced the turnover by Chong with 12 seconds left in the game, getting underneath the offensive player and taking away her space as she tried to turn the corner. She finished with 6 assists and 4 steals. It was yet another big performance for her and she came up big when her team needed her most. She’s having one heck of a tournament and their’s still one more game left. She’s the head of the snake for Mississippi State, they go as they go and their leader has shown she is truly fearless.
Tempo. The Bulldogs were outstanding in this regard, as shared above about the role that Williams played, the gameplan was executed flawlessly in this area. Known as a tough defensive team, the Bulldogs used their defense to control the tempo as well. One shot a possession is a great way to keep Uconn from going on those typical game breaking runs. The most they surrendered was a 12-3 run to start the second half before buckling down and regaining control of things. This will play a big role against their next opponent as well, one shot a possession will be huge and is a great formula for winning in March.
Maturity. Geno has been saying this all season, it was going to catch up to them eventually. It caught up to Uconn last night in a one possession game, these players haven’t been in that position on that stage before. Making them vulnerable unlike any recent team fielded by Connecticut in the past six years or so. A perfect example was their impatience on the offensive end, or the decision at the end of overtime with the ball in hand to head to the basket or start any action with 12 seconds left and their being a mere difference of a tenth of seconds between the shot clock and what was left in the period. A poised team, one that has been in that situation before holds the ball and doesn’t start an action until under 10 seconds, or even 8 ensuring that they get the last shot and possibly an opportunity to get a put back. Which would ensure that your opponent doesn’t get a chance to get a shot up. That wasn’t the case.
Vulnerable. Let me first say that this doesn’t diminish what the Bulldogs accomplished in the least bit. For most that only watch college basketball casually, the womens game that is. The headline of Uconn streak ending is of huge proportions, for those that follow regularly, this wasn’t or shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. This team didn’t have that perceived shield of invincibility or just flat out better talent. The Huskies truly lost to the better team last night, let that be clear and make sure that the Bulldogs get the respect they deserve. The wanted every 50-50 ball, every rebound, and fought the Huskies for every inch of space of the floor.
Hot Takes. Yes the end of a reign sounds great, the streak is in fact busted and that is a feat in itself. The Bulldogs dominated last night’s contest from start to finish. That being said, don’t let the moment take you too far from the bigger picture. This was the “bridge” year for the Huskies. This was the reload, the rebuild, even the house money year for them in that they weren’t expecting a championship. Thats not say they didn’t pursue it, but this was a heck of a coaching job and development job by Geno and his staff taking players that were mostly used as depth and almost having them skip a year in their development and go 36-1. It was impressive, regardless of how it ended.
Big Picture. This is wonderful for the landscape of the sport, anything involving the Huskies is front page news and due to social media, a Womens game was trending in the first quarter on a night where the Golden State Warriors were playing the Houston Rockets. It brought more eyes to the game and showed how great the Womens game can be and is for the casual watchers, the hope is that this doesn’t subside after this news cycle is done. Let the greatness of this game not be in vain, these women play a great brand of basketball and drama in March no matter if it’s mens or womens is great for college basketball.