DALLAS — When the final shot beat the buzzer and UConn’s record streak was over, Geno Auriemma had to smile.
After all the winning, the Huskies coach could appreciate a thrilling victory — even from the other side.
UConn’s 111-game run came to a stunning end when Mississippi State pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in women’s basketball history, winning 66-64 on Morgan William’s overtime jumper in the national semifinals Friday night.
“You know what? When stuff like this happens, it kind of makes me shake my head and go, ‘You know how many times this could have happened and it didn’t happen?'” Auriemma said. “The fact that it never happened, that doesn’t mean I went home thinking it’s never going to happen. I knew this was coming at some point.”
“I’m just shocked that it took this long to get here,” he said.
The Huskies hadn’t lost in 865 days, with that defeat coming to Stanford in overtime on Nov. 17, 2014. Winning had become routine, often by routs. But in an instant, their drive toward a fifth consecutive national championship had been blocked.
When William’s jumper dropped, Auriemma broke into that wry smile. He turned to his bench, then went to congratulate the Bulldogs.
“I just kind of shook my head. This kid’s had an incredible run,” Auriemma said. “When it went in, it was almost like, of course. Of course, it’s going to go in.”
“Look, nobody’s won more than we’ve won,” he said. “I understand losing, believe it or not. We haven’t lost in a while, but I understand it. I know how to appreciate when other people win.”
It took an incredible shot by Mississippi State’s diminutive point guard to end the historic streak.
William hit a 15-footer to cap it, moments after a replay review awarded UConn two free throws for a flagrant 1 foul call that tied the game with 26.6 seconds left.
“I live for moments like this,” William said. “UConn, they’re an incredible team. For me to make that shot against them, it’s unbelievable. I’m still in shock right now. I wanted to take the shot. I wanted to take the shot and I made it.”
William’s shot came one game after she scored a career-high 41 points to help Mississippi State beat Baylor and advance to its first Final Four. The Bulldogs (34-4) will play South Carolina for the national championship Sunday night in a matchup of two SEC teams.
Mississippi State and UConn met in the Sweet 16 last season and the Huskies won by 60 points — the most-lopsided win in regional semifinals history. All season long the Bulldogs had that humiliating loss on their minds.
Now they’ve erased that defeat, beating UConn (36-1) on the grandest stage in one of the sport’s greatest games.
“I don’t have to play them 100 times. Only have to beat them once,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “That is one heck of a basketball team, the greatest of all-time. But how proud am I of my kids?”
Mississippi State led 64-62 before a replay review gave Katie Lou Samuelson the two free throws that tied the game. After a UConn turnover, William held the ball at the top of the key before dribbling to her right and pulling up for the shot, with the ball in the air when the buzzer sounded.
The Bulldogs ran onto the court, piling up at center court while UConn players stood stone-faced. Schaefer grabbed William in a bear hug, with former Mississippi State star Dak Prescott — the Dallas Cowboys quarterback — helping lead the cheers in a sellout crowd.
UConn rallied from a 16-point deficit, its biggest during its NCAA record streak, to take a 59-56 lead in the fourth quarter. The teams were tied at 60 when the Bulldogs had a chance to win it in regulation, but William’s shot was blocked by Gabby Williams, sending the game into overtime.
“Maybe we’re just not ready for this. Maybe we were ready for everything else, but maybe we’re just not mature enough for this,” Auriemma said. “Maybe all our young kids needed to experience this so that we can come back and really be ready for this.”
Neither team scored much in OT with Teaira McCowan’s layup with 1:12 left in the extra session breaking a 62-62 tie. It was the lone basket for Mississippi State in OT until William’s game-winner.
During their last two decades of dominance where they’ve won 11 national championships, the Huskies rarely found themselves trailing — let alone by double-digits. This was the first time this season that UConn was losing in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs got off to a great start, taking it right at the Huskies like not many teams had done during the streak. The Bulldogs led 15-13 before scoring 14 straight points to go up 29-13. It was the biggest deficit UConn had faced during its historic streak and one of the largest during the last 22 years, which the Huskies have dominated with 11 national championships.
The Huskies rallied to within 29-25 as senior Saniya Chong scored seven points during a 12-0 run. Mississippi State answered and was up 36-28 at the half.
UConn came back in the third quarter behind its trio of All-Americans with Williams, Napheesa Collier and Samuelson keying a 12-3 run to start the second half. That run brought Huskies alums Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore, who were sitting 20 rows behind the UConn bench, to their feet.
“We had an incredible run, but we came up against a much better team tonight,” Auriemma said.
© 2017 by The Associated Press