South Carolina grinds its way past Mississippi State for first national title – Yahoo Sports

No. 1 seed South Carolina got coach Dawn Staley her long-awaited national title Sunday, taking control early and withstanding several second-half punches to beat No. 2 seed Mississippi State, 67-55, to win the women’s Final Four.

The Gamecocks went old school, eschewing the long ball and instead dominating inside. They controlled the paint throughout the night, with A’Ja Wilson proving too much to handle. The junior forward finished with 23 points off 9-for-15 shooting, adding 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Wilson’s offensive rebound and putback off a Allisha Gray miss with 1:39 to go finished off a late 8-0 run and extended South Carolina’s lead to 66-52.

Wilson was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player.

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Staley subbed out Wilson and the rest of the Gamecocks’ regulars to a standing ovation with 41.4 seconds to go, with Wilson becoming overcome with emotion on the bench in the game’s final seconds.

“Just overcoming adversity — this team has played with heart,” Wilson said through tears to ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game. “We faced so much adversity and just — I can’t even put into words the feeling I have. What we’ve been through, we finally achieved a huge goal of all of ours. It’s an amazing feeling. I just want to thank God, my family and our coaching staff.”

The win marked the program’s first ever national title, and it marked the first for Staley as a player or coach. Staley, who played at Virginia from 1988-92, had made three Final Fours and one national championship game as a player, never crossing the finish line. Her performance in the 1991 Final Four earned her most outstanding player honors despite the defeat, making her the last player to earn MOP in a losing effort.

South Carolina achieved the crown in unconventional fashion, not hitting a single 3-pointer, becoming the first title-game winner in 15 years to not hit a trey. The Gamecocks instead bullied the Bulldogs down low, out-rebounding them 40-27 and blocking eight shots to the Bulldogs’ three. They outshot the Bulldogs as well, hitting 45.5 percent of their shots to MSU’s 34.5 percent.

The loss marked the end of a charmed run for the Bulldogs, who had taken the sports world by storm Friday night with their overtime upset of UConn, snapping the Huskies’ record 111-game winning streak. The biggest reason for that win, Morgan William, had an off night in the finale, shooting just 2-for-6 from the floor and finishing with 8 points and four assists. The 5-foot-5 point guard was kept in check throughout the night by South Carolina’s Bianca Cuevas-Moore.

“I am so proud of her maturation process,” Staley said of Cuevas-Moore on the podium. “We’ve had her for three years now, she could’ve easily walked away from all of this, walked away from the discipline, walked away and went back to New York, because some of her New York people were trying to get her to come back. But she stayed. The very thing that makes Bianca Bianca is that she stayed.

“Now look at her: She’s a national champion.”

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Matt Fortuna is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!


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