Dallas, Texas – Heroes Media Group, LLC American Airlines Center, host of the 2017 NCAA Women’s Final Four Basketball Championship was an absolute magnet on Semi-Final Friday. The Ladies Final Four drew fans, young and old, male and female, Final Four faithful and rookies alike, to Dallas, Texas to cheer on their team, UConn, Stanford, South Carolina, or Mississippi State. UConn, with its’ 111 game winning streak, the presumptive favorite to claim a fifth straight national championship, was the proverbial Goliath. Stanford, South Carolina and Mississippi State, each a “David” hoping to slay the mighty Huskie Giant.
Semifinal Game 1: Stanford vs South Carolina
A sellout crowd, with over 19,000 in attendance, had a group of staunch Stanford and South Carolina fans giving their attention to the first semi-final game, a low scoring, and rough-house display of basketball. Stanford was down 14-10 at the 1:56 mark of the first quarter and used an 11-0 run to go up 21-14 and held South Carolina scoreless for over seven minutes. The 49 combined points in the first half (29-20 Stanford) is the sixth fewest in a half in a national semifinal game.
South Carolina made adjustments at halftime, came out in the second half more focused and aggressive. Karlie Samuelson, Stanford’s leader in three-pointers, was ineffective, and the much-anticipated championship duel against UConn and sister Katie Lou Samuelson never came to be. South Carolina defeated Stanford 63-53. As the drama unfolded, not one pundit would have predicted that neither of the basketball-star sisters would appear Sunday in the championship game.
The Main Attraction, Semifinal Game 2: UConn vs Mississippi State
The atmosphere at tip-off was rather subdued. Seats were filled from the floor to the nosebleed sections. For Mississippi State, the matchup was an opportunity to erase the nightmarish 60-point loss UConn hung on them in 2016. The Dawgs came out swinging and took it right to the hoop, again and again, capitalizing on very uncharacteristic turnovers by the Huskies. UConn trailed at halftime 36-28, the largest deficit this year. Perhaps, the most remarkable statistic of all was that UCONN only attempted 18 shots in the first half. No team was ever as physical with these Huskies as the Mississippi State Dawgs were. The Huskies responded and the shots began to fall, and they outscored the Dawgs 20-12 in the 3rd quarter.
The teams traded punches throughout the fourth quarter and the noise level was off the charts, the lead went back and forth, and then the improbable happened, with UConn down 60-58, Katie Lou Samuelson took a shot to the neck under her own basket. No foul was called at the time. At a stop in play, Geno Auriemma asked the refs to review the previous sequence for UConn, and a flagrant foul was assessed against Mississippi State. Samuelson hit the two free throws and the game was tied at 60-60. UConn retained possession with 26 seconds left in regulation, but could not score. Overtime was about to commence. To date, the Huskies record in OT games had been 0-3, which was not a good omen. These very young Huskies steeled themselves, fought their way back, got the score even again at 64-64 with the possession arrow in their favor and a chance to win or force another overtime period. The young Huskies attempted the winning shot too soon and lost the ball. With 12 “ticks” left in OT, the smallest player on the court, five foot three inch, guard Morgan William moved the ball up the court, and hit a floater from the foul line at the buzzer. The shot heard around the collective college basketball world, ended UCONN’s historic streak of consecutive wins at 111 games. The final had a Mississippi State victory at 66 to 64.
The Championship Sunday became an anti-climactic event. South Carolina beat Mississippi State 67-55 to win its’ first National Championship.
HMG Staff Writer – Tracy Connell