Reliving the historic NCAA tournament run of Mississippi State Women’s Basketball

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 31: Morgan William
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 31: Morgan William /

I followed the journey of Mississippi State from the Oklahoma City Regional of the  Sweet 16  to their second place finish in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

Mississippi State’s historic run gave me a baseline seat to history.  Every sportswriter dreams of covering a game or sporting event that transcends sports and becomes an iconic moment in time. You can’t train it for like the Olympics.  For the record toiling away for hours also won’t make you Maya Angelou, J.K. Rowling, or Howard Cossell.

I’m not a big women’s basketball fan, at least I wasn’t before Morgan William, Teaira McCowan, and Kelsey Plum took the court in Oklahoma City for their Sweet 16 NCAA matchup.

Maybe it was the cowbells clamoring in my ear but by half-time Plum, William, McCowan, and Blair Schaefer had me transfixed.  I spent the game entrenched in the action on the edge of my seat.

Sweet 16

By halftime, the dual between William and Plum had my heart pounding with each lay-up or steal.

During the season teams found it difficult to come up with effective schemes and plans to diffuse Plum. She racked up every award and accolade during the season, but the Sweet 16 belonged to Mississippi. Wherever she went on the court, Plum was met with a Bulldog.

The experts were certain Washington would cruise past the Bulldogs and lose to Baylor in the Elite 8 matchup Sunday afternoon in the Oklahoma City Regional. The experts didn’t realize Mississippi State was on a collision course with history.

McCowan served up a career game. She ended the night with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, leading her team to a 75-64 win and their first Elite 8 appearance in school history.

Much ado was made about coach Vic Schaefer benching most of his starter at the beginning of the tournament and going with a new starting 5. It was a risk — but one that paid dividends.

Elite Eight – Don’t count your chickens

I’m a pretty quick study. I don’t need a brick to realize greatness when I see it. Mississippi State dismantled Washington in the Sweet 16. I was confident their smothering defense and tenacity would give them the edge over Baylor.

The experts on the syndicated shows commended the Bulldogs on an excellent season but very few thought they would get past Baylor. During shoot-around, the commentators discussed the upcoming highly anticipated Final Four matchup between Baylor and undefeated Connecticut.

The Bulldogs just stayed focused while Itty Bitty, aka Morgan William, took over late in the 4th quarter and willed her team to a win.

I spent the entire game on the edge of my seat trying to remain calm. Inside, I was ecstatic and overjoyed. If Mississippi State could just hold on a little while longer, they could punch their ticket to the Final Four.

It was too early to think about them avenging a 60  point loss at the hand of Connecticut from the year before. What if the unthinkable happened?

If you’re keeping score, and I was, the Bulldogs win over Baylor was their second consecutive upset. No one thought they could beat Washington. Defeating Baylor would be impossible.

Maybe it was the incessant ringing in my head from the cowbells, but I believed the Bulldogs were capable of taking Baylor out.

Mississippi State advances to first Final Four in school history

At this point, I’m convinced Mississippi State floated into Dallas for their first Final Four appearance in school history. I went from disliking women’s basketball to self-appointing myself to as president of the Bulldog fan club. I was hooked.

When I played basketball I wore #32, I patterned my game after Ervin “Magic” Johnson and Dawn “Magic” Staley. Imagine the enthusiasm and excitement I felt with my new favorite team (Mississippi State) and fellow SEC alum South Carolina in the NCAA Final Four.

I sat in on a few team practices. The lackadaisical approach that UConn took surprised me. Stanford’s attitude seemed to say just wake me up in time for the game Sunday. Then the SEC teams came out.  Mississippi State looked excited, hungry, and determined.  They had that look people get when they’re tired of being overlooked. I know, you’re saying that’s easy to say three months later. Bet you didn’t think they could beat UConn before it happened. I did, but don’t my word for it, read for yourself here.


I didn’t really have a stake in the games because I knew I had a front row seat to history. Either Connecticut was going to finish 113-0 and collect their 5th consecutive NCAA Championship, or someone else was going in the history book with them as giant killers.

I grew a little more concerned for the Huskies quest for a fifth championship listening to Geno Auriemma during the pre-game presser.

The Huskies’ head coach Auriemma talked about the pressures and mental challenges facing both teams.

"“They [Connecticut] 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.”"

After hearing Auriemma say that, and analyzing the body language of the teams I started to wonder, can the unthinkable happen? If anyone had the defense to dethrone Connecticut, Vic Schaefer and the Mississippi State Bulldogs did.

You can’t win them all

It wasn’t until the start of the 4th quarter when I really believed it would happen. Schaefer and his Bulldogs controlled the tempo and the game from the opening tipoff. Uconn couldn’t seem to find their footing. State was relentless and even though Connecticut went on several runs Mississippi State would not be denied.

It seemed like everyone in the arena realized midway through the fourth quarter that we were witnessing an instant classic and the end of the streak.

Even when Connecticut forced overtime the look on the Husky faithful said it all. Their beloved Huskies were on the ropes and in desperate need of a miracle. As reality begun to seep in a few tears rolled down the cheeks of the Connecticut guards while pushing the ball up court.

Frustration, pain, and bewilderment flashed across the faces of the Connecticut players. All understandable reactions since the team hadn’t lost a single game in five years.  As Morgan William set her feet and pulled up the arena fell silent and then burst into a cacophony of chaos and cheers. We all knew the shot was good when it left William’s fingertips.  Auriemma clapped and smiled a bittersweet smile while the ball arced in the air sailing towards history.


The amazing tournament run garnered the WBB team 2 nominees for ESPYS, Best Upset, and Best Play. Former Mississippi State alum Dak Prescott, who attended the thriller, joins the nominees with a nomination for Breakthrough Athlete.

Voting is still open for the 2017 ESPYS. Vote for your favorite athletes and plays, then watch the show hosted by Peyton Manning tonight, Wednesday 7/12/17 at 8 pm EST on ABC.

Related Story: ESPYS: Dak Prescott and Morgan William nominated for ESPYS

Mississippi State Bulldogs 2017 ESPY Nominations

There’s still time to vote for your favorite Bulldogs:

Best Upset: Mississippi State def. UConn in NCAA Women’s Final Four

Breakthrough Athlete: Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)

Best Play: Morgan William’s (Mississippi State) buzzer-beater vs. UConn in women’s basketball