UConn hoping to forget about Mississippi State as it returns to the Final Four
Albany, N.Y. — Nothing against Mississippi State women's basketball coach Vic Schaefer or his players. All very nice people.
But if there's one thing the UConn women's basketball team is most likely tired of talking about, it's last season's overtime loss to Mississippi State in the national semifinals in Dallas, with the Bulldogs getting a game-winning shot from Morgan William at the buzzer.
“I don't have much choice but to think about it because it's brought up in almost everything that I do, so yeah, I think about it all the time,” UConn senior Gabby Williams said Monday night, again reminded of the shot that snapped the Huskies' unprecedented 111-game winning streak at that time.
“But I can't take anything back,” Williams said. “All I can do is look forward and see what I can do going into Friday's game.”
At 9:30 p.m. Friday, UConn (36-0) meets Notre Dame (33-3) in the national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio, that same exact game.
The Huskies, making their 11th straight Final Four appearance, waited a year to get back here, with the hopes that somehow a victory or two will render the memory of Mississippi State in their last NCAA tournament game a duller ache.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said following Monday night's 94-65 defeat of defending national champion South Carolina in the Albany Regional final that he doesn't believe in any sort of redemption tour. He called last year's loss “ancient history.”
“There's no theme. There's no rallying cry that's going to reverberate through the entire season that's going to carry us back to the Final Four,” Auriemma said. “I don't buy any of that stuff. What I do think is these kids are pretty good at understanding when it's a big, big game. They generally show up for big games, this year every one. That is what you need more than a slogan.
“So what happened last year, you can't take that back. When we go there and we play Friday, we can go in there and be beside ourselves from what happened last year and it won't matter if we don't play great. I'm glad we're going back there, but that's that.”
Of course, that isn't really that.
UConn arrived in Columbus on Tuesday, a quick turnaround after Monday's game in Albany, where Williams was named Most Outstanding Player.
One of the other teams at the Final Four? Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (36-1) will meet Louisville (36-2) in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday night at Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mississippi State's only loss this season came against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference championship game, the same Gamecocks' team which put a damper on Mississippi State's fairy tale by beating the Bulldogs in last year's national title game.
Let the questions begin.
“I think we've both been probably fueled by what happened a year ago,” Schaefer said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon of his team's tie to UConn. “For us, we've now got to get ready and play a very, very good Louisville team that's extremely well-coached, great players.”
Mississippi State even won an ESPY award for “Best Upset” last July for the 66-64 shocker over UConn.
Following the buzzer beater by William that Friday night, which had by then turned into early Saturday morning, Auriemma smiled as he headed to shake Schaefer's hand.
He was asked in Tuesday's conference call to describe that moment.
“Well, I've always known this and it's common sense,” Auriemma said, “the more you keep winning, the closer you're getting to your next loss because you can't win forever. So for anybody to think that we're going to win four national championships in a row and then five and then six and then seven, it's ridiculous.
“… You've seen too many games and the law of probability, you know, this shot's going in. It was time. This just happened to be the time. That was the moment. That was the kid. That was the shot. So that whole time, as soon as it was over, 'Yeah, I get this.' I know exactly what happened and why.
“Let's move on.”
At Columbus, Ohio
Mississippi State (36-1) vs. Louisville (36-2), 7 p.m.
UConn (36-0) vs. Notre Dame (33-3), 9:30 p.m.
National ChampionshipSunday's Game
Semifinal winners, 6 p.m.