DALLAS— The greatest streak in the history of collegiate basketball is officially over.
No, this isn’t an April fool’s joke.
Mississippi State’s Morgan William ended the UConn women’s basketball team’s 111-game winning streak in overtime of the national semifinal. William took the ball above the 3-point line with four seconds left in overtime and sunk a floater over Gabby Williams by the free throw line as time expired to make it 66-64 and stop the Huskies’ record winning streak dead in its tracks.
“Obviously, you know, when you get to this point in the season, and you lose, it's the worst feeling imaginable,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “Today, you know, they deserved to win. They beat us. We had our chances.”
Throughout a chaotic overtime period, the Bulldogs (34-4) answered every blow from UConn (36-1) with one of their own. The result: a game drastically different than last year’s Sweet 16 matchup in Bridgeport, where the Huskies blew out Mississippi State 98-38.
“We had our pride stepped on last year by another great team, just like that one today,” Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer said of last year’s loss. “We didn't play well. They played really well. We got our tail handed to us.”
After Katie Lou Samuelson hit a jumper to tie the game up at 62 with 1:35 left in overtime, Mississippi State's Teaira McCowan made a layup to go up 64-62. Following a media timeout, a flagrant-1 foul was assessed to the Bulldogs’ Dominique Dillingham, who appeared to elbow Samuelson unintentionally in the throat on the Huskies’ side of the floor.
Samuelson knocked down both free throws to make it 64-64 and the Huskies had the ball with 26 seconds remaining. As the clock wound down, senior guard Saniya Chong drove to the hoop with just over 12 seconds left.
“Saniya just tried to make a great play. God bless her. There was a collision and nothing happened,” Auriemma said.
As the ball bounced out of bounds, neither team was called for a foul, setting up the biggest shot of William’s career and arguably the greatest upset in the history of the sport.
“I just shot the ball,” William said. “I know Coach said one shot. I didn't want to give them too much time to go shoot the ball, end up going to a second overtime.”
The Bulldogs were in control right from the opening tip, never wavering despite UConn’s relentlessness in the second half. While the Huskies came out flat to start, Mississippi State was ready from the get go, putting UConn on their heels with an early lead. They’d finish the first period with a 7-0 run to lead 22-13 in the opening frame.
After scoring the first seven points of the second quarter, Mississippi State’s lead ballooned to 16 points after a layup from Victoria Vivians made it 29-13. The 16-point deficit was the largest the Huskies had faced in the last two seasons.
From there, Williams turned it up a notch to keep the Huskies in contention, scoring 14 points after Vivians’ layup with 7:36 left in the first half. UConn responded with a 12-0 run to pull within six, but Vivians would score the Bulldogs final seven points of the half to give Mississippi State a 36-28 lead at halftime.
Williams did everything she could to keep the Huskies in the game, denying an earlier game-winner attempt from the Bulldogs’ William at the end of regulation with an emphatic block. She’d finish the night with a game-high 21 points in the first loss of her collegiate career.
“It's been incredible, and I'm really proud of what we've done, especially this year, with kind of the gap that we've had to fill,” Williams said of being a part of the winning streak.
UConn would claw back early in the second half, pulling within one in the first three minutes after a 3-pointer from Kia Nurse made it 39-38.
The 3-pointer was Nurse’s 21st of the 2017 tournament, setting a new program and NCAA record. Her 22nd 3-pointer of the quarter put the Huskies ahead 44-42 with 3:38 left in the third for UConn’s first lead of the game, but Mississippi State answered with jumpers from William, McCowan and Ketara Chapel pulled the Bulldogs even at 48 with 10 minutes to play.
“I feel like we got stagnant when they started going zone, we started standing around, throwing up threes. I mean, we weren't attacking like we were in the beginning. I feel like that's when they made their run,” Mississippi State’s William said.
UConn’s best chance at their 112th consecutive victory came in the final quarter of regulation. After trailing 56-52, a 3-pointer from Samuelson pulled the Huskies within one, and a pair of free throws from Chong nearly a minute later put UConn on top 57-56 before Williams stole the ball and laid it in for a 3-point lead.
Vivians answered the Huskies’ 7-0 run by scoring the Bulldogs’ final four points in regulation, including a 3-pointer that put State up 60-59 with 1:14 left. Sophomore Napheesa Collier had a chance to put the Huskies up after she was fouled with 27 seconds to play, but made only one of two free throws to send the game into over time.
Collier (11 points), joined Samuelson (15), Chong (10) and Williams as the only Huskies in double-figures. Vivians scored 19 for Mississippi State before fouling out with over three minutes left in overtime. Other than William and Vivians, Breanna Richardson and McCowan had 12 and 10 points respectively.
Chong’s career ends as the winningest player in the history of women’s college basketball, going 152-2 in her four seasons in Storrs.
“They’ve basically made me the woman I am today,” Chong said of her time at UConn. “Freshman year it was pretty crazy going through obstacles trying to find my way, but as I stand today I’m so glad for my coaches and teammates for helping me grow.”
The Bulldogs’ victory means a matchup of two programs making their first-ever national championship appearances after South Carolina defeated Stanford 62-53 in the first semifinal game. On the other hand, UConn will not be playing for a national championship for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
“I'm proud of our team. I'm proud of our kids. They had an incredible run,” Auriemma said. “But we came up against a much better team tonight.”