Image: Eric Gay/Associated Press
DALLAS, Texas - South Carolina did not let Mississippi State get that glass slipper on Sunday night in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament; the Cinderella story was not meant to be.
Claiming a 67-55 victory in the championship game at American Airlines Center, South Carolina takes the title back to Columbia for the first time ever.
This is the Southeastern Conference's first women's basketball title since Texas A&M pulled it off in 2011. A&M is like South Carolina and State as the new elite of the SEC, replacing the legacy of Tennessee, Georgia and LSU that had been around the top of the league in the 80s, 90s and the start of the 2000s.
Being a part of the national championship game for the second time since 2014 and to see the SEC come back and claim the title of being the best, is a great source of pride to those who have seen women's basketball grow tremendously through the start of the national tournament back in 1982.
Playing to a near full-house of approximately 19,000 with plenty of maroon and garnet inside AAC, the SEC has a good representation of its fan base, which is always the case, regardless of what sport it is, especially when a national championship is on the line.
Mississippi State just could not overcome an opponent that knew them just like the back of their hand. South Carolina has posted 11 straight wins against Mississippi State, taking down the Lady Bulldogs three times this season.
The one prior to Sunday night was for the conference championship in Greenville, South Carolina at the beginning of March.
Many were hoping it would be State, after their 66-64 overtime win on Friday, ending Connecticut's 111-game winning streak and four straight years of national titles.
A new hero was coming out in State's talented point guard, Morgan William, the junior from Shades Valley High School in Birmingham.
Getting tagged with the nickname "Itty Bity" by ESPN, William had the clincher in the game-winning shot against U-Conn as time expired in the national semifinal.
Not one U-Conn fan stayed around to attend the championship game without the Lady Huskies involved.
Carolina was able to neutralize William, holding the semifinal hero to eight points on 2-of-8 shooting, and kept her scoreless in the fourth quarter when State was trying to make a run.
William, who buried the game-winner over 5'11" U-Conn forward Gabby Williams in the semi, could not accomplish a similar play Sunday, when she shot an air ball in the first half against 5'6" South Carolina point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore.
The attempt was from the same spot where William became more known for how great of a player she is, and where she ended the domination by a team from Storrs, Connecticut.
William will be remembered for her March Madness in 2017, tearing down a talented Baylor team in the regional final the week before in Oklahoma City with a career-high 41 points; that is also a MSU record in tournament play.
But in the final, Mississippi State could never slow down Carolina's front line of A'Ja Wilson and Allisha Gray who combined for 41 points and outplayed State's front court once the game began.
Wilson, one of the best front-line players in the country, was selected the Final Four MVP.
Plenty is going well now for South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. Staley has her first national championship from the coaching ranks and a few weeks ago, was given another title, taking over USA Basketball, getting them ready for international competition and the Olympics in 2020.
That position was held by U-Conn's Geno Auriemma, who was in attendance and recognized along with members of the USA team that won Olympic gold back last summer.
Good news for South Carolina is Wilson will return in 2018 for her senior year and will be surrounded by plenty of experience in the quest to keep them atop the ladder of women's basketball.
Mississippi State will also be expected to be a serious challenge for top honors in the SEC and to make another run in March Madness. The Lady Bulldogs have William and her back-court partner Victoria Vivians to lead the way with State deep in quality personnel and successfully recruiting solid talent.
U-Conn will also look to make amends after the stunning defeat in the semifinals. Williams anchors a squad that will be looking to show they may be down for the moment, but not out of the challenge completely.
Expectations will be high for these teams, especially with Mississippi State now making a name for itself in this sport and being led by a talented young lady who comes from the Magic City.
A friend of mine made a great comparison of William: William is a female version of former Cullman Bearcat Lawson Schaffer, now a member of Alabama's basketball team.
Both are gifted and talented and have great ability to attack the basket or step back and knock down shots.
By the way, both wear the same uniform number, too. William is no. 2, as Schaffer has been since he played varsity hoops for the Bearcats and as he will be entering his junior season next year with the Crimson Tide.
Schaffer is a fan favorite of the Tide student body. William will be hailed a hero when she returns to Starkville, even without the national championship.
It will make State very hungry for 2017-18. You know they will make an impact when March Madness takes place in less than 365 days. Many people can't wait for it to transpire.
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