David Cloninger

Opportunity hammering away at USC’s door

I mean, Mississippi State’s really, really good. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t, after doing something only one team in 112 tries – including South Carolina for three of them – couldn’t do.

But if you’re the Gamecocks watching MSU defeat The Big Blue Menace last night, and you get to play the Bulldogs instead of the Huskies … don’t you have to feel like it’s meant to be?

Dawn Staley said it before she even knew who she’d play Sunday night. “I think it’s our year,” she said, and watching UConn fall had to reinforce that. I have no doubt the Gamecocks would be as confident as they’ve ever been if they played UConn for the title, but now?

You couldn’t chart this confidence with a telescope.

Mississippi State will have its own level of confidence after beating the Huskies but they also haven’t been able to beat USC in two tries this year. In fact, USC hasn’t lost to MSU since 2010, reeling off 10 straight that includes the last two SEC tournament championship games.

USC also played MSU the last time without Alaina Coates, like it will this time. A’ja Wilson and Kaela Davis led a fourth-quarter barrage that sent the Gamecocks past MSU to the tournament title, after trailing by five going into it.

The Gamecocks will have a handful with the always-dangerous Victoria Vivians, and without Coates, defending the 6-foot-7 Tearia McCowan isn’t going to be easy. Morgan William, who sank the game-winning shot last night, is playing the best ball of her career right now.

But they’re not UConn, with the specter of the winning streak and consecutive titles and Geno. Staley already made history by advancing to her first title game as coach, and by beating Tara Vanderveer for the first time in her career.

Throughout Staley’s magnificent career, this is the one prize she never got. Came close a lot of times but never got it.

She just received a chance to do it against a team that’s very good, but a team she knows, and a team she knows how to beat.

Don’t you have to feel like it’s meant to be?

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