March Madness: the greatest team in women’s history lost to a loser

I grew up going to Mississippi State men’s basketball, baseball and football games. My parents would pick my brother and I up early from school and we’d drive three hours from Memphis to Starkville in excited anticipation. We’d get to campus in the afternoon, just enough time to get some BBQ from Little Dooey and buy cheese from the campus ice cream shop “made from cows on campus.” We’d then head to the game and like a herd of cattle, file into the stadium wearing maroon and smiling at how loud the cowbells were ringing. I still hear fans starting the famous “maroon . . . white” chant. We’d watch the game, and I’d end up being carried back to the car asleep in my daddy’s arms. I’d wake up the next morning magically in my bed somehow still exhausted from the evening of excitement before.

Needless to say, we aren’t bandwagon State fans (who would be?). We’ve been there through all the ups and downs. We were fans even before the world knew who Mississippi State University was.  Nobody loves State because they’re a power house or a whole lot of fun stuff to do in Starkville, Mississippi. People love State because they love getting their hopes up… and then having all of their hopes and dreams shattered.

Maybe the worst heartbreak yet was this year’s Mississippi State Women’s Basketball team.

I don’t have cable in my apartment so it’s hard to keep up with many sports. My dad texts me once a week about North Carolina men’s basketball and everything Mississippi State. This basketball season, my dad continued to text me about Mississippi State women’s basketball and how they kept beating everyone and are getting ranked higher and higher. I just glanced over most of the texts. In the past few years, Mississippi State has been ranked, but they don’t have much to show for those high rankings besides a pretty good regular season record. Regardless of ignoring all Mississippi State women’s basketball texts, the texts kept coming.

While this March Madness season I was more interested in my men’s bracket, my dad was more interested in State’s women’s team and their climb to the Final Four to face the University of Connecticut. I know I said earlier I wasn’t a bandwagon fan (believe me as much heartache as I’ve been through with the Bulldogs, I’m not) but the University of Connecticut had won 111 games going into the Final Four and  State lost by 60 points, 98-38 the last time they played them. I’m a realist. UConn had the game in the bag.

In case you don’t know much about women’s college basketball here are some numbers about the University of Connecticut:

  • They had not lost in 865 days.
  • This season they were 36-0.
  • Their average margin of victory was 33.3 points.
  • They had not lost a NCAA tournament game since 2012.

Earlier Friday I was talking to a friend about how awful it would be to be the UConn team to lose that 111 game streak and how crazy it would be to be the team to defeat the seemingly unbeatable team. I love my Bulldogs, I love ringing my cowbell obnoxiously and I love to hate the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), but there wasn’t a chance that State would be the team to end the streak.

But they did.

My beloved Bulldogs were the ones who beat the 111-game winning streak of the UConn dynasty. Morgan “Itty Bitty” William will forever be known as the 5-foot-5 guard who slayed the giant. I’ll hand it to her; she took both last second shots, something most people in sports would be hard pressed to do. At the end of regulation, Williams drove to the basket, threw it up and the ball rolled out of the rim. I looked at my friends and we all knew that was ball game. It was a miracle Mississippi State hung with UConn for four quarters, no way could they last another five minutes in overtime.

This is going to be blatantly obvious but bear with me: State matched UConn score for score the entire game, and even had a 10-point lead at one point. State even led most of the game. But the thing is, UConn does not let their opponent stick around. Most of the time, UConn hits a three, their opponent comes down on the other end tries for a lay-up, gets blocked and UConn hits a fast break three, just to crush their opponents heart a little bit more. UConn is ruthless and I hate watching them win. Friday night I loved watching them lose. All of their faces were sad and in disbelief. They didn’t know how to lose and they couldn’t believe they were losing.

In the final seconds of overtime, William got the ball again. It was obvious she was going to take the last shot once again. She crossed over, took a couple dribbles to the free throw line and made her jumper.

That was it. The streak was over. The unbeatable had been beaten. The giant had been slain. It was incredible.

It was short lived.

Google Mississippi State now and see what comes up. It’s not that the women’s team beat the University of Connecticut, it’s not that fascinating article I read about how their victory over UConn could be the biggest upset in all of sports, it’s not that Mississippi State baseball swept the University of Mississippi (this is our state), no. You know what the headlines are? South Carolina beat Mississippi State for the National Championship.

Anna Lee Little, senior business management major, tweeted it best, “It’s the most Mississippi State thing ever to beat the greatest team of all time and STILL not win the National Championship.”

Ms. “Itty Bitty” pouted for more than half the game and took a nice long ride on the bench the whole fourth quarter. I couldn’t believe head coach Vic Schaefer did that to her, but I respect him even more as a coach for doing it. At one point, William turned the ball over, threw her hands down by her side, and jogged back on defense. HELLO! You’re playing in the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP game! Save your pity party for the next day!

South Carolina played hard and had something to prove. Mississippi State looked like they had partied all weekend from the victory Friday. South Carolina was clearly not going to just give the championship game to the team who had just beat the number one team in the world. Mississippi State clearly thought South Carolina would walk onto the court intimidated, lay down and just let them win.

To be fair, State did battle hard, until they didn’t. South Carolina was the number one seed for a reason. A’ja Wilson, South Carolina’s 6-foot-5 junior post player, moves like a gazelle but rebounds like Hall of Famer Moses Malone. She averages 7.63 rebounds a game, 17.7 points a game, shoots 55 percent from the field and has over 1,000 points in her career at South Carolina. She dominated State just like the sports broadcasters said she would. She scored a game high 23 points, with 10 rebounds and won the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four award.

State lost the battle 67-55 Sunday night, but not the war. As deflating as the loss was, State made it to the Final Four for the first time in school history. They’ve finally caught the attention of the basketball world. Coach Schaefer took his team to the Elite Eight, the Final Four and a national championship game. Mississippi State women’s basketball has earned respect and I know they won’t settle for that one time win over the University of Connecticut.

State is known for not being able to finish. One day we will. Until then, “Hail State!”