Mississippi St takes on defending champ UConn and their 111-win streak at 9:30 CST from Dallas in the second game of the women’s Final Four. Most people already have UConn pouring champagne, or sparkling cider, in the locker room Sunday night. Not so fast.
Last weekend the experts started breaking down the Final Four matchup between Baylor and UConn before Baylor and Mississippi St. took the court. Coach Schaefer’s squad could have the ‘experts’ wiping egg off their faces two weekends in a row. This game will be one for the ages. Move over David and Goliath, there’s a new sheriff in town.
Mississippi State’s head coach Vic Schaefer talked about being the underdog, “In a nutshell, we just have to go play. If we go play, like we’ve been playing, look, we just beat a No. 1 seed. Baylor’s pretty good, by the way. They’re really good. Got a lot of really good players. They were so good they were talking about the UConn-Baylor matchup on Saturday night before we played them on Sunday. They’re obviously pretty good to a lot of people. I just think we have to take care of ourselves. Control what we can control, win the minute, win the hour, try to win the two hours”
The Bulldogs are masters at controlling their own destiny. . State ended the season 29-4 but 3 of those 4 losses came in the final days of the season. Drastic times call for drastic solutions. Schaefer did the unthinkable and benched four of his five starters just before the start of the NCAA tournament. A lot of players would’ve sulked or pouted. Instead, the team rose to the occasion, embraced their new roles and went about the business of bruising their way through the NCAA tournament.
MSU’s defense is suffocating. The pressure the Bulldogs put on opposing teams is real. The defense is so complete fans in the stands are left feeling the weight of Tiera McCowan while Morgan William dashes past for the steal. This team is everywhere. They don’t leave much room for mistakes. Still, a lot of basketball is won in the court of the mind.
Can the Bulldogs overcome the 60-point thrashing they took in the Sweet 16 last year at the hands of the UConn Huskies?
“Walking in the weight room, our strength coach has 60 on, like, the window. We see it every day. It didn’t leave our heads at all. To be put back in this position means a lot,” said Victoria Vivans, a 6-1 junior who averages 16.3 PPG.
Morgan William had 41 points, seven assists, 0 turnovers, and shot 13-for-22 from the field and 6-for-8 on 3-pointers in the overtime win Baylor in OKC.
The UConn Huskies are appearing in their 10th consecutive Final Four, and trying to win their fifth consecutive NCAA Championship. Gabby Williams leads the team in steals (2.7 SPG) and assists (5.2 APG) and averages 14.1 PPG.
“It’s just a blessing in itself to be here. It’s definitely an opportunity we don’t take for granted. Like Kia said, this is our last few days together, just this team. So, we’re just going to try to enjoy it. It’s the last trip we’ll have with Saniya and Tierney. We want to make sure they have a good experience, as well,” Williams said.
Gabby Williams scored 25 points Sunday, helping UConn to its 10th straight Final Four and 18th overall appearance in the national semifinals.
Only two opponents stand between the Huskies leaving Dallas 113 – 0. Not everyone expected the Huskies to keep this amazing streak alive after graduating three key players last year. For now, if you want to be the champ you must beat the champ and that means the road to winning a national championship still goes through UConn.
UConn’s head coach Geno Auriemma talked about the pressures and mental challenges facing both teams. “They don’t own any of those 10 Final Fours. They don’t own any of those 11 national championships. They only own part of the streak. I mean, the only thing that this team has to hold onto, I’ve said this before, is the 36 wins that they have right now this year.
So, going into this weekend, how are they going to handle this situation that they’re in right now? I have no idea. But it’s not going to be that much different than, how is Mississippi State going to handle their first Final Four? How are those kids going to handle being here for the very first time?
We all have the same issues. This is not an easy environment to play in. Both teams I think are going to see the effects of that.”
Can the unthinkable happen in Dallas? Anything is possible, and I think the Bulldogs have a shot, but right now UConn is playing leagues above the competition. The Huskies lead the nation in assists per game and field goal percentage. If destiny breaks just right not only will Geno and company find themselves in a position to win their 5th National championship in 5 years, UConn will do it facing Tara VanDeever and the Stanford Cardinals. A matchup between Stanford and UConn in the Final will feature UConn’s sophomore All-American Katie Lou Samuelson and her sister senior Karlie Samuelson. Don’t get too far out on fantasy island just yet., Before the war of the Samuelsons takes place, UConn and Stanford need to find a way to get past Mississippi St and South Carolina. Neither will be an easy task. Whoever survives to dance at center court on Sunday, one thing is certain they will have earned it, Even the UConn Huskies get their championships the old-fashioned way, they earn them.
Before turn his focus to practice, Auriemma talked about what the UConn magic. “We’ve had teams in the past where kids would come to Connecticut and they thought, I go through pre-season, I get my uniform, then I call my parents and tell them, this is what day the parade is when we win the national championship. When they realize, they’re going to get their ass kicked every day in practice, they don’t like it, they quit. Things don’t just happen by themselves. You have to make them happen. When you come here, there’s some things you have to live up to. You can’t escape it.
As they cleared the practice floor Auriemma dropped a few more gems, “You might as well embrace it, enjoy it, let it help you, rather than be, you know, something that detracts from you.” In a way that metaphor works for life and basketball,