Start time: 6pm ET
TV: ESPN (Dave O’Brien, Doris Burke, Kara Lawson, Holly Rowe)
Live Stream: WatchESPN.com
Radio: 107.5 The Game (Columbia) | Live Audio: Gamecock IMG Sports Network
If you had Mississippi State in the national championship game over UConn, raise your hand.
It wasn’t that the Bulldogs were a bad team that led people to believe that they didn’t have the manpower to end what stood as one of the most incredible win streaks in sports history. But surely, after losing to the Huskies by 60 a year prior in the Sweet 16, they’d be stopped short once more, right?
What we saw instead was not only one of the great games in NCAA women’s tournament history, but one of the great finishes: Morgan William, the smallest player on the floor, hitting a last-second shot to send the Bulldogs to a spot in the title game against the Gamecocks and leaving the Huskies without hardware for the first time since 2012.
That left us with the matchup we thought would be fun to watch play out, but didn’t think we’d actually see: South Carolina vs. Mississippi State - SEC vs. SEC - for the third time this season and for the sport’s highest prize.
The first two games between these two were peanuts compared to what’s up for grabs this evening. The Gamecocks slipped past the Bulldogs 64-61 on January 23 behind 26 from A’ja Wilson and 17 from Allisha Gray. When Carolina came away with a 59-49 win in the SEC Championship game thanks to a 23-point effort by Kaela Davis and a 15-point day by Wilson, nailing down a #1 seed in the process, we figured that would be the last they’d see of Vic Schaefer and his squad.
Mississippi State’s path to the title game before the Oklahoma City regional and Friday night’s heroics was fairly inconspicuous: they whipped Troy in the first round (110-69) and punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with a 92-71 defeat of DePaul. But Oklahoma City was where the story started to get good. They trailed Kelsey Plum and Washington 50-48 headed into the 4th quarter in the regional semifinals before the game turned into the Teaira McGowan show - with the sophomore scoring 20 of her career-best 26 points in the final frame to lead her team to a 75-64 win. Two nights later, William scored 41 in an overtime win against Baylor; five nights later, she would be mobbed by her teammates after her buzzer-beater in overtime toppled the mighty Huskies.
There are two questions that will determine the outcome of this game: will Mississippi State be able to tamper their emotions long enough to focus on this evening, or will the Gamecocks lean on the same recipe that got them the first two wins against the Bulldogs - and the vast majority of their wins this season? One thing’s for sure: one of these teams is going back home with their first ever national championship, and we can’t wait to see how it plays out.