UConn's surprising run ends with stunning Final Four loss
When the season began I thought there would be times when the young UConn women's basketball team would act its age. I wasn't expecting there to be a ton of times when the Huskies struggled to pile up the wins but thought it was inevitable that they might tumble every now and then.
Well, other than the season opener at Florida State and a game at Tulane, the new-look UConn team passed all the tests and headed to the Final Four undefeated even after bidding adieu to All-Americans Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck.The clock struck midnight not long after midnight with an overtime loss to Mississippi State.
Morgan William (whose story of pressing on following the death of her beloved stepfather three years ago was a large portion of my advance) did the honors with a buzzer-beating jumper.
It certainly will go down as one of the biggest upsets in women's college basketball history although when the it is all said and done, I'm not sure it would top Baylor's loss to Louisville when Brittney Griner and Odyssey Sims were on the verge of putting that Lady Bears team into the conversation as the best women's basketball team of all time or Tennessee's loss to Duke back in 1999 when the Lady Vols seemed destined for a 4-peat.
"They deserved to win today," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the record 111-game winning streak came to an end. "We had them on the ropes a couple of times and they never backed down. Sometimes you think they snuck one out on us but they deserved to win today.
"Of course the kids in the locker room are disappointed we lost and disappointed we didn't play our regular UConn kind of game but when it wears it, you realize that they kicked our butts tonight in some really important areas."
William's 14-foot jumper over Gabby Williams' outstretched hand dropped through the basket as time expired to give the Bulldogs the 66-64 overtime victory.
The shot ended the longest winning streak in NCAA basketball history at 111 games and avenged a 60-point loss to the Huskies in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
"When I made the shot, I was in shock," William said. "I'm still in shock. I'm over here like, 'hey, I just won the game.
"My teammates are just so happy and proud of me. I can't thank them enough because I can't be playing the way I'm playing without them."
UConn (36-1) were in position to steal the game away.
Katie Lou Samuelson was awarded two free throws when an official review resulted in Dominique Dillingham being called for a flagrant foul. After Samuelson made the free throws, the Huskies had the ball with a chance to take the last shot. Senior Saniya Chong's attempt to win the game resulted in a play ruled as a turnover but could just as easily been considered to be a shot. There was no question where Mississippi State was going after calling a timeout with 13 seconds left.
William, coming off a 41-point effort in a win over Baylor to earn a spot in the Final Four, drove and took the shot heard 'round the women's basketball world.
"All of us really wanted it to end on a better note," Samuelson said. "I was in a little bit of disbelief. it dodn' really hit me until we got closer to the locker room because when she hit that shot, it was kind of weird. I didn't know how to act."
Gabby Williams led UConn with 21 points but the team leader in assists had just two to go with five assists. Mississippi State had 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan guard Williams in the high post knowing that there would be times when Williams would drive in for layups but McCowan's size would keep Williams from distributing the ball the way she has all season long.
"I could only give so much so me trying to contest her and try to make her score over my height was the main thing going into the game," McCowan said.
Schaefer addressed the strategy as Mississippi State's decision to try to disrupt Williams as a facilitator in the high post is something only accomplished this season in a three-point win at Tulane.
"She got drove on a couple times," Schaefer said. "We knew there'd be some heartache with that. We also knew that might be the best thing in the long run to help us put a kink in the sprocket, so to speak."
Auriemma pinpointed the issue to Samuelson, who had only eight of her 15 points in the first three quarters and Collier struggling to get into a rhythm leaving Williams to try to carry the offensive load.
It's hard not to like this Mississippi State team. I was really impressed with my dealings with the players and in particular William.
It was a tough ending for UConn senior Saniya Chong who had a major role in the Huskies putting together the season they had but she was the one who tried to give the Huskies the lead in the closing seconds only to be charged with a turnover.
"They are going to remember that play because they have never been in that situation, they've never sat on the bench and watched," Auriemma said. "Those people have never been in the Final Four.
"Saniya's played more minutes in the NCAA tournament this year than she did in the other three years combined. Now she gets the ball and tried to make a play to win the game. OK, only problem was it was seven seconds too early. She is trying to make a play to win the game. We probably wouldn't be in the situation we were in if she didn't have the last couple of months that she had."
Auriemma obviously wanted to get two more wins this season so the Huskies could have walked away with the program's 12th national title. However, he's more than happy to bid adieu to the questions about the longest winning streak in NCAA basketball history.
"I wish it would have happened against Florida State, I wish it would have happened against South Carolina, I wish it would have happened against Baylor, I wished it would have happened against Tulane," Auriemma said. "I've been praying for the end to the winning streak all season long because it is an incredible distraction."