Friday was one of the most exciting days of the year for women’s college basketball. That's partly because it decided who would be playing for a chance at a national championship, and—thanks to Mississippi State junior guard Morgan William’s shot at the buzzer—because it was the first time since 2014 that the UConn women's basketball team had lost! Thanks to South Carolina’s nine-point victory over Stanford, the Bulldogs and the Gamecocks will now meet for the third time this season, in an SEC-themed national championship.
Later today, South Carolina will be playing Mississippi State for the NCAA title. It feels a bit weird writing that, considering that most people thought UConn would be in the championship game. But MSU found a way to beat UConn, which had an 111-game winning streak and a shot to win a fifth-straight national championship.
The thrilling game, which went into overtime, ended with the 5’5” Williams hitting the shot of her life as the buzzer sounded. It was a shot she and her teammates will remember for the rest of their lives.
“When she hit the shot, I was looking at the scoreboard, and then I saw that they had counted it, and I was like, We just won! We just beat UConn! We just stopped their streak! Like, We just made history again,” said senior center Chinwe Okorie.
The shot was so impressive it made people in the arena such as Mississippi State alum Dak Prescott, the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, jump up and down and go crazy.
And even some, including Okorie, are calling this the greatest upset in women’s sports history. When asked if she believes so, she said, “No doubt in my mind, yes.”
Some might disagree, but it certainly was a miraculous victory for Mississippi State, especially considering that the last time the two teams met, the Bulldogs lost by 60. In fact, in their weight room, they had the number “60” posted all over to remind them of the pounding they took in their previous matchup. When the time came to play UConn, they still had that game on their mind.
“Oh yes. We heard people talking about, ‘it’s going to be another 60-point blowout,’ but little did they know we actually came to play,” said Bulldogs sophomore center Teaira McCowan. “Last year we were satisfied [with getting that far], but this year we weren’t satisfied. We knew we needed to get past them. Everyone doubted us the whole season, so just getting to this point is just amazing.”
And while getting there is amazing, it is only, of course, half the battle. Said sophomore guard Jazzmun Holmes, “We know we still have one more game, and I think we're going to be prepared for this game. [The Gamecocks] know us better than everybody, and we know them better than anybody. We just have to come out and execute like we always do.”
This will be the third time the two teams will have played each other this season. And while Mississippi State lost both of those games—the first by three and the second by 10—the Bulldogs had also been demolished by UConn in the past.
Then there is South Carolina, which beat Stanford 62–53. It would mean the world to the Gamecocks to win it all, especially for their coach, Dawn Staley. Staley has done basically everything but win a national championship. She was the ACC player of the year in 1991–92, has three Olympic gold medals, and even got to carry the flag for the U.S. at the 2004 Olympics Opening Ceremony. But the one piece of the puzzle she is missing is that national championship. She was close for three years in a row at Virginia but just came up short.
And even though that was 20 years ago, “I still remember that,” she says. “I think as many wins that I've been a part of, it’s the losses that really sting. ’90, ’91, and ’92 all were opportunities for us to win a national championship. But the last one was probably the hardest one.”
Photographs by (from top): Ron Jenkins/Getty Images (William's winning shot); Jake Aron (MSU's locker room white board after the win)