It was stunning to see. Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer benched Morgan William for the entire fourth quarter.
William, his junior point guard, had been one of the best players in the entire NCAA tournament. She lit up Baylor for 41 points and drained an overtime buzzer-beater to snap Connecticut’s 111-game win streak.
Yet there she was on the bench as South Carolina won the national championship Sunday.
“(Jazzmun) Holmes was playing good today,” Schaefer said. “Morgan, she had some struggles early.”
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“Struggles” doesn’t begin to describe it. William was facing Bianca Cuevas-Moore, and it was like being surrounded by bear traps.
“I was never letting nobody score (41) on me,” Cuevas-Moore said. “If I’m guarding you, you ain’t scoring that much.”
That was evident. William was a mere 2-of-6 for eight points, half from the line. Everywhere she turned she was met with a face full of junior from the Bronx.
“Again, South Carolina’s really good defensively,” said Schaefer, who’s nicknamed “The Minister of Defense.” “I mean, they play really hard against us and do a great job. Today was no different.”
Allisha Gray scored 18 points, many in crucial times as MSU cut into a massive USC lead. The junior has another gear when she decides to take over, but has always seemed hesitant to do so with so many stars around her.
She didn’t wait on Sunday.
OUR 1’S BETTER THAN YOUR 2
A’ja Wilson dominated the paint against MSU’s Tearia McCowan (6-foot-7) and Chinwe Okorie (6-5). Wilson finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and two steals while McCowan and Okorie combined for nine, 14, two and zero.
When all-SEC performer Alaina Coates was lost for the year, some questioned whether USC would be able to hold its own down low. Wilson answered in a big way.
Wilson, the Final Four MOP, received one vote for the Associated Press National Player of the Year award. Washington’s Kelsey Plum swept the POY awards.
“I just kind of knew I needed to make an impact on the game,” Wilson said. “That’s my biggest thing when I play, when I compete, is how to make an impact.”
With momentum on MSU’s side after cutting USC’s lead from 14 to four, freshman point guard Ty Harris never flinched. The Indiana native stayed calm and collected down the stretch, finding her teammates for open baskets and breaking MSU’s press.
“All this tournament, we were down at one point and that helped,” Harris said. “My teammates have my back and my coaches have my back. Even when I’m not doing well, they trust in me.”