DALLAS – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Mississippi State brought Connecticut and its 111-game winning streak crashing down.
Guard Morgan William hit a 10-foot jumper at the buzzer and the Bulldogs grasped a 66-64 victory in the NCAA Tournament semifinals that shocked the college basketball nation on Friday night at the American Airlines Center.
“I got enough space, I jumped up and made the shot,” William said. “I was in shock. I’m still in shock. I’m over here like, ‘Man, I just won the game.'”
The Bulldogs led 64-62 before a flagrant foul call on Mississippi State guard Dominique Dillingham allowed Connecticut’s Katie Lou Samuelson to tie the game at the free-throw line with 26.6 seconds remaining in the extra period.
But the Huskies couldn’t score on the ensuing possession as Mississippi State created a turnover to set up William’s decisive shot.
Guard Victoria Vivians scored 19 points to lead Mississippi State. William finished with 13, forward Breanna Richardson added 12 and forward Teaira McCowan pitched in 10.
Forward Gabby Williams scored 21 to lead the Huskies and Samuelson finished with 15.
Connecticut (36-1), in its 10th straight Final Four, will not get a chance to add to its streak of four consecutive national championships. But Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said he wasn’t surprised by the result.
“We’re playing way above our years and way above our experience level,” Auriemma said. “Tonight, it caught up to us. When we really needed to be a little more mature with what we’re doing, we didn’t have it. A big part of that was because of what they were doing.”
Mississippi State (34-4) advances to play South Carolina in an All-Southeastern Conference title game on Sunday evening back at the American Airlines Center. The Bulldogs finished one game behind South Carolina in the SEC standings.
Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer and the Bulldogs players said they believed they could win the game even before taking a big lead in the first half.
“Obviously, I’m extremely proud of my group,” Shaefer said. “What an unbelievable, gutsy performance that no one in the country probably thought could happen. But we knew it could happen.”
Vivians drove baseline and spun to get an open look that she converted to give Mississippi State a 56-52 lead with 3:57 remaining in the fourth quarter, forcing Auriemma to call timeout.
The Huskies scored seven straight points, but Vivians hit a 3-pointer that gave Mississippi State a 60-59 lead with 1:14 remaining.
UConn’s Napheesa Collier hit a free throw to tie it at 60 with 27 seconds left and Williams blocked William’s last-second attempt to win the game in regulation.
Earlier, Mississippi State had gone ahead by 10 when Richardson hit a jumper 20 seconds into the second half.
But Connecticut closed the gap quickly.
The Huskies went on a 12-1 run and took their first lead of the game when Collier hit a jumper in the lane, putting Connecticut in front 40-39 with 6:14 to go in the third quarter.
“I knew we were in good shape,” Auriemma said. “We knew it was going to be only a matter of five, six minutes before we got it back. But (Mississippi State was) just better.”
A year ago, Mississippi State fell behind the Huskies by 28 points after the first quarter when Connecticut handed the Bulldogs a 60-point loss in the Sweet 16.
Mississippi State flipped the script on Connecticut this time around as the Bulldogs claimed a 16-point lead early in the second quarter.
“We had our pride stepped on last year,” Schaefer said. “Because of that, these three right here (Vivians, Richardson and William at the postgame press conference) and the rest of their teammates, they’ve kind of been on a little bit of a mission.”
Vivians, who led Mississippi State with 12 points in the first half, made a layup to put the Bulldogs ahead 29-13 with 7:36 left until halftime.
But Connecticut fired back at that point.
Guard Saniya Chong sparked the Huskies by scoring seven during a 12-0 run to close the gap. Chong capped the surge with a 3-pointer that cut Mississippi State’s lead to 29-25 with 3:44 left in the second quarter.
Mississippi State still took an eight-point lead to halftime after outrebounding the Huskies 21-11 in the first 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs scored 12 second-chance points in the first half while holding Connecticut to a single offensive rebound in the same period.
NOTES: By making its 18th Final Four appearance, UConn is now one Final Four berth away from tying Tennessee’s record 19 Final Fours. … Huskies coach Geno Auriemma passed former Tennessee coach Pat Summit for the most all-time victories in the NCAA Tournament when UConn defeated Oregon in the Elite Eight. Auriemma now has 113 NCAA Tournament wins. … By defeating Baylor in the Oklahoma City Region final, the Bulldogs upped their program single-season wins record to 33. Mississippi State has set a record for victories in each of the last three seasons