By ELENA DE ALFREDO and MAURICIO RICH
No. 1 seed South Carolina (32-4) earned the 2017 NCAA women’s basketball Division I National Championship title after beating No. 1 seed Mississippi State (34-4) 67 to 55 on April 2 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Junior forward A’ja Wilson led South Carolina to their first title in the school’s history, with a double-double, 23 points and 10 rebounds, while junior guard Allisha Gray also recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
This was the third time that Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams have played in the title game, the first time being in 1996. This is the fifth consecutive year that a No. 1 seed team has won the national title.
The Gamecocks out-rebounded the Bulldogs 40 to 27 and limited the Cardinals in their charge category to zero. Prior to this game, Mississippi State recorded a total of 83 charges in their season. The Bulldogs also went two from 12 from beyond the arc and 19 from 55 from the field.
Mississippi State had also faced different obstacles before classifying to the final game, such as beating three No. 1 seeded team in each round, along with defeating Washington, home of the Division I all-time leading scorer, senior guard Kelsey Plum.
On the other hand, South Carolina had advanced to the Elite Eight and Final Four rounds for four years in a row. In this year’s tournament, the Gamecocks did not encounter any first-seeded team throughout the tournament.
On March 15, South Carolina beat Mississippi State in the 2017 SEC Tournament game with a 59-49 final score. The Bulldogs recorded their season-worst 49 points, season second-worst seven assists, season-worst 36 percent from the field and season second-worst zero out of 15 from beyond the arc.
En route to the finals, Mississippi State faced the prior national championship title holder, UConn, in the semifinal game on March 31. Up until this game, Uconn held a perfect 36-0 record with a 33.1 point-average margin over their opponents.
The Huskies also were in a 111-game winning streak, the second longest in NCAA history in any sport and the most in women’s college basketball history.
Mississippi State lost to UConn last year in the Eight Elite, but despite these facts, Mississippi State ended the Huskies’ historical winning streak, clinching their fourth consecutive NCAA title and finishing with a game-winning jumper by junior guard Morgan Williams.
Williams not only ended Uconn’s season, but also scored a career-high 41 points against No.1 seed Baylor in the Elite Eight game. William scored a total of 14 threes throughout the regular season, but ended six out of eight from beyond the arc against the Bears.
South Carolina was defeated in the Eight Elite last year, but, this year they reached the championship game for the first time in the school’s history.
The Cardinals made their first appearance in a Final Four in school history averaging 92.8 points per game (ppg) in the NCAA tournament, where in the previous eight games the Bears averaged 66.0 ppg.
On the other side, first-seeded South Carolina outlasted No.2 Stanford with a final score of 62-53 on March 31. Wilson led Gamecocks with a double-double, 13 points and game-high 19 rebounds, while Gray added 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Gamecocks came into halftime with a nine-point deficit, but changed the rhythm of the game by holding Stanford to eight points and four field goals in the third period.
This would be South Carolina’s first victory against Stanford, as the Gamecocks came into the game with a 5-0 losing record against the Cardinals. Entering the contest, Stanford averaged 72.2 points per game, but South Carolina held them to 53 points, their lowest score output in the NCAA tournament.
Wilson was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, following South Carolina’s third win in a head-to-head contest against the Bulldogs.