No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 2 Mississippi State
This is the sixth time in championship game history where both teams are from the same conference and the first time since 2013. The all-SEC final is also officially sold out.
Time and Place: 6 pm ET Sunday, April 2 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Where to Watch: ESPN, channel 42.1 on Storrs channel listing.
Last Meeting: South Carolina defeated Mississippi State 59-49 in the finals of the SEC Tournament for the second straight season. The Gamecocks won the only regular season meeting between the two teams 64-61 and have not lost to the Bulldogs since Feb. 11, 2010.
South Carolina’s Last Time Out: The Gamecocks defeated Stanford 62-53, locking down the Cardinal offense and outscoring them 42-24 in the second half. Junior Allisha Gray led all scorers with 18 points while junior and AP All-First Team selection A’ja Wilson had 13 points and a game-high and career tying 19 rebounds.
“Allisha Gray has been the most consistent probably of all of our players,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said about Gray. “We call her the silent assassin. She doesn’t say much. She lets her play speak for itself. She’s been doing that time and time again”
Mississippi State’s Last Time Out: The Bulldogs shocked the world and dethroned the No. 1 UConn Huskies 66-64 in an overtime thriller. Junior Morgan William hit the game-winner at the end of overtime, as she finished with 13 points and six assists in perhaps the greatest tournament upset in NCAA women’s history.
Projected Starting Lineups: No. 1 South Carolina (32-4) vs No. 2 Mississippi State (34-4)
G: Bianca Cuevas-Moore vs. Victoria Vivians
Cuevas-Moore was able to provide seven points, three rebounds and two steals during the comeback victory against Stanford. In the two previous matchups against the Bulldogs, the junior guard is 2-9 from the field for six points, while dishing out two assists and turning the ball over four times. Vivians and the Bulldogs overwhelmed the Huskies shooting 67 field goals, as Vivians led the way taking a game high 18 field goals, including 11 3-pointers. In both games against South Carolina, Vivians was 7-26 from the field and 2-11 from behind the arc for 21 points as she is the catalyst for the Bulldogs offense.
G: Tyasha Harris vs. Morgan William
The freshman guard hit several free throws down the stretch to ice the game against the Cardinal, scoring 10 points and grabbing three rebounds in 32 minutes of play. Harris struggled in the first game against Miss. St on Jan. 23 scoring five points on 1-3 shooting but bounced back in the SEC championship dishing out five assists and scoring seven points on 3-4 shooting. As for William, the question now is what does she have in store for the world next? William hit the buzzer-beater around the world against the Huskies finishing with 13 points. In the two games against South Carolina she was 9-24 from the field and had seven turnovers.
G: Kaela Davis vs. Breanna Richardson
Coming into the matchup against Stanford, Davis was arguably one of the hottest players tournament after being named the NCAA Stockton Regional MVP but she was bottled up in the win shooting 2-15 from the field for six points. Davis shot poorly in the first matchup against the Bulldogs going 1-9 for the field but she exploded for 23 points, five rebounds and three assists on 9-16 shooting in the SEC championships, igniting her hot streak. Richardson had an under the radar performance against UConn scoring 12 points and grabbing seven defense rebounds in the win. Against the Gamecocks she was 6-12 for 12 points and seven rebounds in the first game but struggled going 3-9 from the field for seven points in the rematch.
F: Allisha Gray vs. Chinwe Okorie
Gray was the player of the game against Stanford, providing consistent scoring and timely shots in the victory. The junior had a game-high 18 points on 7-14 while providing eight rebounds and committing zero turnovers. Against Miss. St, she shined in the first game in January scoring 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds. The senior forward was 3-4 for seven points in 20 minutes against UConn, but was not a factor in the SEC championship against South Carolina playing nine minutes and not recording any assists, rebounds or points.
F: A’ja Wilson vs. Teaira McCowan
The one Achilles heel for Wilson against Stanford was her poor free throw shooting (3-8) but she made up for it grabbing 19 rebounds and blocking three shots across 37 minutes. In both matchups against the Bulldogs, Wilson has proved almost unstoppable to guard, grabbing nine rebounds in each game and shooting 60 percent from the field for 41 points. The six-foot-seven forward got in foul trouble early against UConn but finished 5-9 from the field for 10 points and had eight rebounds, including a crucial layup to put the Bulldogs up two in overtime. In both games against South Carolina, McCowan had an issue staying on the court as she fouled out in the first game after going 5-5 from the field, and had four fouls in the second matchup when she had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Dawn Staley on the third matchup against Miss. St: “Is it hard to play somebody three times? It is. But for how the games played out, that could have gone either way, I mean, it’s so close. You can’t use that as bragging rights. And you’re playing for a national championship. You’ve got to throw all of that out the door.”
History in the making: Both teams with their dramatic Final Four victories move to their first ever national championship game. (Last team to win in first trip to finals-Texas A&M in 2011) Also by result of having two SEC teams in the final, the SEC will move into a tie with the Big East for most championships with nine, the University of Tennessee has won all eight for the SEC.
Miss. St head coach Vic Schaefer on Wilson and South Carolina: “Well, obviously they attack you with so much aggression. They play the way we like to play. They’re playing that lineup right now that’s really fast, aggressive. They go off the bounce. They play around A’ja, who you just can’t get a butt on her. She’s so good. In my opinion, she’s the best player in the country. I mean, I’ve had to deal with her now for three years. I ought to know.”
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.