Women's Basketball 2017 NCAA Tournament National Championship Game Breakdown

National Championship Game Breakdown
Great moments in sports are born out of great opportunity. Thus, for Morgan William and her Mississippi State Bulldogs teammates, they created a moment for the ages as William’s running jumper just before the buzzer at the end of overtime gave Mississippi State a 66-64 victory over the Connecticut Huskies ending their 111 game winning streak. It was the ability of the Bulldogs to come out and play fearless at both ends of the court that put Connecticut behind by as many as 16 points at one point. The Huskies were never able to get truly comfortable and move the ball against Mississippi State. There was also the adversity of Teaira McCowan sitting most of the first half on the bench because of two early fouls. That did not matter as the Bulldogs were phenomenal on the offensive glass all night long, out rebounding Connecticut 14-6 which created plenty of second chance opportunities at the offensive end of the court. Defensively, Mississippi State pressured the Huskies in a manner that quite frankly wore them down as the game went on resulting in 17 turnovers by Connecticut. And that would also end up being the difference in the upset win for the Bulldogs.
South Carolina is off to the national championship after making some key adjustments at halftime and putting the throttle down on Stanford, defeating the Cardinal 62-53. This was the first national semifinal win in program history under the direction of head coach Dawn Staley. Allisha Gray and A’ja Wilson led the scoring for the Gamecocks as they combined for 31 points and 27 rebounds. It wasn’t an easy road for South Carolina to get the victory as Stanford did control the tempo in the first half and took a 29-20 lead into the locker room. In the third quarter, the Gamecocks outscored the Cardinal 21-6 to take a 41-37 lead thanks to a much more efficient offensive effort. South Carolina shot 46.9 percent from the floor in the second half and defensively limited Stanford to a 30.3 percent shooting percentage in the second half.
Keys to the game for the Gamecocks against the Bulldogs are the following. First, they will need to be able to set a strong tone on the defensive end of the court and not allow William and Vivians to get in rhythm shooting the basketball. And they need to make Teaira McCowan work for everything she gets down low in the post. Finally, South Carolina will need to a great job on the offensive glass as Mississippi State will do everything humanly possible to create second and third shots for themselves, which could potentially wear down the Gamecocks in the second half. Keys to the game for the Bulldogs will be surviving the opening quarter and getting themselves right mentally after the unbelievable euphoria of shocking Connecticut on Friday night. They don’t necessarily need to blow South Carolina out right away, but they need to keep the game under control so they can settle in for the final three quarters. Second, it will be important for Mississippi State to attack the basket and get the foul line early and often to get the Gamecocks in foul trouble and on their heels early. There should be a minimum of 15 shots for McCowan, if not more, if the offense is clicking on all cylinders. There will be times where someone else besides William, Vivians, or McCowan will need to step up and hit a big shot as the Bulldogs will need to be able to score more than the 49 they had in the SEC Conference Tournament championship game earlier in March.
On paper, despite playing a shorter rotation, you would have to make South Carolina a slight favorite in this third matchup with Mississippi State since they have already beaten them twice. In addition, there is also the resilient nature of the Gamecocks, who have fought through adversity all year long to get this point. And that is a difficult thing to ignore. On the other hand, as this run by the Bulldogs has shown, games are not played on paper and you can’t measure heart when breaking down these games. Mississippi State has plenty of depth and a floor general in William that has the heart of an unrelenting fiercely competitive champion. The type of champion that has one more game in her to will her team to victory on Sunday and write the perfect storybook ending to what has been an incredible run a group of young women, and a head coach in Vic Schaefer, who have shown that team basketball with relentless toughness and fearlessness can overcome five-star talent on any given night. And that is only going to elevate the quality of women’s basketball moving forward.