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UConn's Record Run Ends With Buzzer Beating Loss To Mississippi State In OT In NCAA Semifinals (By Rich Elliott)

POSTED April 01, 2017
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By Rich Elliott

DALLAS – UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has maintained for months that a loss was going to come at some point.

The Huskies had players assuming greater roles this season than at any point in their career. It was only natural that this level of inexperience would catch up to them at some point, Auriemma believed.

Standing two wins shy of winning a fifth straight national championship, UConn’s miraculous run came to an end Friday at the hands of Mississippi State. Morgan William made a game-winning, 14-foot jumper at the buzzer to lift the Bulldogs to a thrilling 66-64 win over UConn in overtime in the national semifinals before a sellout crowd of 19,202 at American Airlines Center.

``We’re playing way above our years and way above our experience level,’’ Auriemma said. ``(Friday) it caught up to us. When we really needed to be a little more mature with what we’re doing we didn't have it. They deserved to win. They beat us. We had our chances. They beat us.’’

The Huskies (36-1) had won an NCAA record 111 straight games and a record 28 straight NCAA tournament games.

Stanford had been the last team to defeat UConn, earning an 88-86 win in overtime at home Nov. 17, 2014.

``It's been incredible,’’ UConn junior Gabby Williams said. ``And I’m really proud of what we've done, especially this year, with kind of the gap that we've had to fill. I wouldn't want to be with anybody else right now. I wouldn't want to have any other people as my teammates. I'm proud of what we’ve done.’’

Mississippi State (34-4) will face South Carolina (32-4) in the championship game Sunday (6 p.m.; ESPN). Behind18 points and eight rebounds from Allisha Gray and 13 points and 19 rebounds from A’ja Wilson, South Carolina overcame a nine-point halftime deficit en route to a 62-53 win over Stanford in the first game Friday.

Victoria Vivians led Mississippi State with 19 points. William had 13 points, six assists and three steals.

``What an unbelievable, gutsy performance that no one in the country thought could happen,’’ Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. `` But we knew it could happen. They have tremendous heart. They also have a little pride. We had our pride stepped on last year by another great team just like that one (Friday). And because of that they’ve kind of been on a little bit of a mission. We beat the greatest team with the greatest streak in the history of sports.’’

The game was a rematch of UConn’s 98-38 win in the Bridgeport regional semifinals last season. The margin of victory represented the largest in the history of the Sweet 16.

The Bulldogs insisted they were a different team. And they proved it from the outset, building a 29-13 lead with 7:38 left in the first quarter. They led 36-28 at halftime.

``It was very, very disjointed that whole first half,’’ Auriemma said. ``There was no rhythm to our game. We usually have a tremendous flow. We just never got one in that first half, especially. Obviously, we got one in the second half. But the first half, I can't even say I’m surprised. I’ve been talking about it all year.’’

With the game ultimately tied at 62, Teaira McCowan scored on a layup to thrust the Bulldogs back in front with 1:12 left in overtime. Katie Lou Samuelson again tied the game by making two free throws in the wake of a flagrant foul called on Dominque Dillingham after she delivered a forearm to Samuelson’s throat with 26.6 seconds left.

Following a turnover by Saniya Chong, Schaefer called a timeout with 12.3 seconds left to set up a final play. Williams then nailed the game-winner over the outstretched hand of Williams as time expired.

``Coach called a timeout and he was like `Morgan, you’re going to win the game,’’ William said. ``(The play) wasn’t originally for me, but the way they were guarding I told Dom to get the ball and bring it down the court. And time was just ticking. I got a little space and I jumped up and I just made the shot. And when I made the shot I was in shock. I’m still in shock.’’

Said Williams: ``We didn't want them to penetrate too deep, which they did. I would have liked to block it, but she got it up high and she got it up quick. There was not much I could do.’’

It was Williams who had forced overtime by blocking a driving layup attempt by William with 1.5 seconds left in regulation. A second block was not meant to be.

``Morgan had 41 against Baylor. There ain’t any shots bigger than the one she hit (Friday),’’ Schaefer said. ``But that’s the shot we wanted. That’s who we wanted taking it, and at the end of the day you’ve got to want to be in that moment. And our kids want to be in that moment.’’

After William’s game-winner went through the net, Auriemma stood and smiled near the UConn bench.

``That's one of the toughest shots to make from that distance under that kind of pressure,’’ Auriemma said. ``I always tell my team one play doesn’t cost you a game. It almost never does. One play doesn’t cost you a game. But a lot of times one play will win you a game. That’s exactly what she did.’’

Williams turned in a valiant effort for the Huskies, finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in 44 minutes. Samuelson added 15 points and five rebounds in 45 minutes, while Napheesa Collier had 11 points (4-of-11 FG) and eight rebounds.

Saniya Chong contributed 10 points and five assists in a career-high 42 minutes in the final game of her career. Kia Nurse (six points; 2-for-8 FG) set a team NCAA tournament record with 22 3-pointers.

``When you get to this point in the season and you lose, it’s the worst feeling imaginable,’’ Auriemma said. ``The excitement that was in Mississippi State’s locker room, we've been there. We've been there lots of times. We've experienced that probably more times than normal. They took us away from the things that we like to do. We didn't have the kind of maturity that you need to win at this level at this time of the year.

``Some of our young guys got a little bit ahead of themselves. That’s OK. We went in the locker room and we experienced some of the things that a bunch of other kids have experienced against us. I’m proud of our team. I’m proud of our kids. They had an incredible run. But we came up against a much better team (Friday).’’

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