South Carolina has spoiled the miracle for Mississippi State.
A’ja Wilson and Allisha Gray both had double-doubles and the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs, 67-55, to win the NCAA women’s championship in an all-Southeastern Conference matchup of first-time finalists Sunday night.
The loss for Mississippi State came two days after ending UConn’s record 111-game winning streak with a stunning buzzer-beater by Morgan William in overtime in the semifinals.
Thanks to that win, the crowd heavily favored Mississippi State, which used the energy for an early 7-1 lead before the Gamecocks (33-4) took control for a third straight win this season against the Bulldogs (34-5).
It was the first title for the SEC since the second of two straight by Tennessee in 2008.
Wilson had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Gray added 18 points and 10 boards.
“Man, just be with us next year, we’re trying to be in this same spot next year, we’re going to see how it goes,” Wilson said after winning the most outstanding player award for the Final Four.
William was never much of a factor, even sitting during a fourth-quarter run that got Mississippi State within four after the Bulldogs trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter. The 5-foot-5 junior finished with eight points. Victoria Vivians led Mississippi State with 12 points.
South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley made the Final Four three times as a player at Virginia but never won. She also led the Gamecocks to the national semifinals two years ago before losing to Notre Dame. Once the final buzzer sounded, Staley grabbed the trophy and paraded it around the court high over her head.
“You have to give tribute to the former players,” Staley said. “Go back to my Temple days, they believed in our vision. We took that vision to South Carolina and that vision was we’ll be national champions. If you stick with us and if you’re disciplined, if you believe all these players believed in that. Happy our words came true to them.
“Our players never fretted, ‘La’ we got you a ring. We got you a ring,” Staley said of Coates. “Allisha Gray, Kaela Davis they all believed in it. They spent a year getting to know our team, getting to know our system. Got the opportunity to play and we become national champions. It’s incredible belief and discipline and can’t thank them enough for choosing South Carolina.”