Mississippi State Defeats UConn In Final Four Upset Friday night was one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history as Mississippi State upset UConn 66-64 in overtime at the Women's Final Four.
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Mississippi State Defeats UConn In Final Four Upset

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Mississippi State Defeats UConn In Final Four Upset

Mississippi State Defeats UConn In Final Four Upset

Mississippi State Defeats UConn In Final Four Upset

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/522284749/522284750" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Friday night was one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history as Mississippi State upset UConn 66-64 in overtime at the Women's Final Four.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And, boy, do we have a sports story today.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Hell has frozen over. Pigs soar through the sky as we speak. One of the biggest upsets in college basketball history last night as the Mississippi State Bulldogs upset - I'll say they upset them - UConn 66 to 64 in overtime at the Women's Final Four. UConn had won 111 straight games. We're joined now by the distinguished sports impresario who told us two weeks ago this would never happen, NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter).

SIMON: He's in Phoenix at the site of the Final Four. What do you figure - Russian meddling?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, oh, definitely - hacking the whole thing - had to be. Absolutely, yeah.

SIMON: So, I mean, just a year ago at the women's tournament, UConn beat Mississippi State by 60 points that - I don't misspeak - 60 points. So what happened in the intervening year?

GOLDMAN: Good question. I mean, this - this Mississippi State team was a better team than the one that got walloped by 60 points. The Bulldogs, you know, they beat a very good Baylor team to get into the Final Four and have this match up with UConn, and they have a very good, very tiny point guard - 5 foot 5 inch Morgan William who scored 41 points against Baylor. But of course, the feeling was, yes, that was Baylor, but this is UConn, winners of, as you say, 111 straight games - longest winning streak in Division I history - and the Huskies would find a way to, you know, versus Mississippi State as they had in every game since their last loss in, oh, November of 2014. But, Scott, they didn't. They got outplayed. Mississippi State's defense took away UConn's comfort zones, and UConn never really recovered.

SIMON: That incredible finish. Take whatever time you need to talk about it, the great Morgan William. Go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, she drives the ball to the right of the key with a few seconds left in overtime, pulls up for a jump shot, went through the net as the buzzer sounded. I mean, streak over - Goliath toppled. And - and here go the Bulldogs. They play South Carolina in tomorrow's championship game. For the first time since 2012, we'll have a women's champion not named UConn.

SIMON: This is a great moment in sports history, and obviously a great moment for Mississippi State. That being said, this wasn't last year's UConn team.

GOLDMAN: It wasn't, Scott. You know, led by three seniors who were the first three taken in the WNBA draft. You know, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma talked about how this team didn't have the maturity you need this time of year, and indeed for all the prognosticators who predicted another sweep to the title for UConn, the ones who follow the team closely offered that caveat that the key players on this team didn't have a lot of big game tournament experience that could matter in close games, and it did last night. UConn rushed shots. The Huskies forced passes that became turnovers. They had the ball, score tied, with about 26 seconds left in overtime, and they just had to run the clock down and take a last shot. But instead one of two players drove to the hoop 12 seconds left, turned over the ball, and that led to William's winning shot.

SIMON: Boy, you're in Phoenix. And I understand that men play basketball this year too, right? There's a - there's a Final Four. South Carolina plays Gonzaga. Oregon plays North Carolina, right? North Carolina. They do play basketball there, right?

GOLDMAN: Right, right, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, it's a high bar the women set last night, but I think there will be some excitement today. You've got two teams in their first Final Four - South Carolina and Gonzaga. One team that hasn't been this far since it won the first NCAA tournament in 1939 - that's Oregon. And then, you've got North Carolina trying to redeem itself after losing in last year's title game at the buzzer. The predictors have Gonzaga beating South Carolina because it's such a well-rounded deep team that plays great defense and can score. And then North Carolina over Oregon but not by much because of North Carolina's size and the fact that Oregon has been missing one of its top big men the entire tournament. And this is the game where his absence might be felt. But, Scott, after UConn, I am not predicting anything.

SIMON: All right. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much. By the way, baseball opens tomorrow. Go, Cubs, go. Go - oh, wait, they're cutting my mic. Tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday - they opened it again - NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles about what he was doing on Capitol Hill this past week.

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Mississippi State Drops Powerhouse UConn, Will Face South Carolina For Title

Gabby Williams of the Connecticut Huskies battles for the ball against Dominique Dillingham of the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs in the first half Friday night during the semifinal round of the 2017 NCAA Women's Final Four in Dallas. Ron Jenkins/Getty Images hide caption

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Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Gabby Williams of the Connecticut Huskies battles for the ball against Dominique Dillingham of the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs in the first half Friday night during the semifinal round of the 2017 NCAA Women's Final Four in Dallas.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Before Friday night's national semifinal game, the Mississippi State women's basketball coach gave an unusual motivational speech.

"I will not be scared," Vic Schaefer told his players. "There is no reason to be scared. You are one heck of a basketball team."

The tactic makes more sense in light of the opponent: 36-0 University of Connecticut, riding a 111-game winning streak that included a 60-point thrashing of Mississippi State in last year's Sweet 16. At the time, it was the worst defeat in tournament history.

On Friday night, Mississippi wiped all that away, prevailing 66-64 on Morgan William's overtime buzzer-beater. Connecticut hadn't lost since Nov. 17, 2014.

The Lady Bulldogs came right at the Huskies from the start, doubling up Connecticut 27-13 early in the second quarter and taking a 36-28 lead into halftime. That was just the second time all season, and the fourth time in the Huskies' lengthy winning streak, that the team had trailed at the half.

It was Connecticut that was playing scared, coach Geno Auriemma told his players at halftime, junior forward Gabby Williams said.

Auriemma, making his 10th straight appearance in the Final Four, said earlier in the day that this year's team lacked killer instinct, KERA's Gus Contreras reported.

"They haven't become what I hoped they would become — you know, like, edgy," he said. "They just have this attitude like, 'Everything will be fine, don't worry about it.' And yet they keep winning."

Mississippi State leading scorer Victoria Vivians shoots against Napheesa Collier of Connecticut in Friday night's NCAA tournament semifinal. Ron Jenkins/Getty Images hide caption

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Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Mississippi State leading scorer Victoria Vivians shoots against Napheesa Collier of Connecticut in Friday night's NCAA tournament semifinal.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Connecticut recovered quickly after halftime, taking their first lead within three minutes. But that momentum dissipated, leading to a back-and-forth game the rest of the way and tie scores after the third and fourth quarters.

Mississippi State had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Lady Bulldogs guard Morgan William passed up a wide-open three-pointer for a drive to the basket that was smothered by Connecticut's Gabby Williams.

A flagrant foul with less than 30 seconds left in overtime let Connecticut tie the score and have a chance for the last shot, but a turnover gave William the second chance she needed.

The 5-foot-5 William — hero for the second game in a row after scoring 41 against Baylor — ended the game with 13 points, six assists and three steals. Junior guard Victorian Vivians led the Lady Bulldogs with 19 points. Gabby Williams led Connecticut with 21 points on 7-12 shooting, as well as eight rebounds and four blocks. Sophomore guard Katie Lou Samuelson added 15 points and five rebounds.

After the game Auriemma said the outcome didn't surprise him, and suggested the team might not have been mature enough for the intensity of the Final Four.

"We talk about it all the time how hard it is to win in this environment," he said. "At this time of the year you start thinking about what's at stake. Maybe we just weren't ready for this."

He said his message to the Huskies after the game was that "college basketball has given them a lot, you know? They've sent a lot of kids to the locker room over the years feeling the way they're feeling."

Erica McCall of the Stanford Cardinal drives against Tyasha Harris and A'ja Wilson of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half Friday during the semifinal round of the 2017 NCAA Women's Final Four in Dallas. Ron Jenkins/Getty Images hide caption

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Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Erica McCall of the Stanford Cardinal drives against Tyasha Harris and A'ja Wilson of the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half Friday during the semifinal round of the 2017 NCAA Women's Final Four in Dallas.

Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

In the first game of the night, South Carolina, a 1-seed, pulled away in the fourth quarter to avoid an upset against Stanford, a 2-seed, 62-53. It's the Gamecocks' first trip to the championship game.

South Carolina was led by junior guard Allisha Gray, who scored 18 points on 7-14 shooting and had 8 rebounds. Junior forward A'ja Wilson, an Associated Press first-team All-American, added 19 rebounds and 13 points. Stanford's senior forward Erica McCall and sophomore forward Alanna Smith each scored 14 points and pulled down more than a dozen rebounds in the losing effort.

Stanford had led 29-20 at halftime, but South Carolina dominated the second half, The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C., reports, scoring 42 after being held to 20 in the first, and holding Stanford to a season low of 24 second-half points:

"Staley said she could tell during halftime that her team would be fine.

" 'The looks in their faces weren't looks of defeat. It was looks of, "Ok, we're going to figure it out," ' she said. 'We couldn't play that sleep time basketball. We were allowing Stanford to put us to sleep, and we knew they were going to do that. We just had to get to halftime and make our adjustments. No matter how much we were down I felt like we were going to make a comeback.' "

Mississippi State and South Carolina, both members of the Southeastern Conference, played twice this year, with South Carolina winning both games by scores of 64-61 and 59-49.

The title game will be 6 p.m. ET on Sunday in Dallas, and will air on ESPN.