The Bulldogs had run a rather unorthodox starting line-up in the early rounds of the tournament, with four of the regular starters on the bench during the opening tip. On Sunday, Morgan William, Dominique Dillingham, Victoria Vivians, Breanna Richardson and Teaira McCowan would take the court first for the Bulldogs.
The change of pace paid dividends as the Bulldogs would make the most of their first half opportunities.
Vivians would open the scoring with a mid-range jumper near the free throw line, but the next nine points would be tallied by the Bears. That run ended when Vivians dialed up a long distance jumper off of the left wing to bring the score to 9-5 in favor of Baylor with just under seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.
"Boy, I thought we were really good offensively," MississippiState coach Vic Schaefer said. "It starts with Morgan. But it also starts with Tori making a couple shots early, because you can just see our team relax.
"When she's taking good shots, she took a couple bad ones in the first half, but just getting her back to the party. I mean, I did, I told her in the -- I think it was the second or third quarter, I said, Welcome back to the party, baby. You're playing good. It just relaxes the whole team when she plays like that."
The opening period would be quarter of runs with Baylor taking the early advantage and then Mississippi State taking their first lead on a Richardson lay-up. The Bears would answer back and have the better of it until the final minute.
State would hold for the final shot of the period and William would bank home a three to give the Bulldogs a 21-19 lead after one.
"Their one kid (William) kicked our rear," said Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey. "But kudos to her. I knew we were in trouble when they were hitting bank shot threes to start the game when the shot clock was winding down. What do you do?"
The Bulldogs would lead at the first media timeout in the second quarter, 27-26. The teams would trade threes on opposite ends of a pair of Nina Davis free throws, which put the Bears up 31-30.
McCowan spent most of the first quarter on the bench, but showed some solid energy once back in the game. A dish down low led to a hoop and harm for the talented sophomore. A possession later, McCowan would be sent to the line after drawing the third foul of the half on Baylor starting point guard Kristy Wallace. McCowan would convert both from the charity stripe giving State a 34-33 lead. The teams would trade baskets until the final seconds of the half when Schaefer would find McCowan underneath for a lay-up to close out the half at 43-40 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Baylor would begin the second half in ragged fashion turning the ball over and forcing up a wild shot from underneath. Meanwhile, William was going to work on the Bulldog offensive end adding a pair of jumpers and finding Schaefer at the top of the key for a three that would give State a six point advantage.
At the media timeout, State would lead 52-49 and would take the court on the reset with ball possession.
Baylor would rally back and take a one point lead into the fourth period, 61-60. That lead would seesaw back and forth and settle at 63 all for over two minutes. A William jumper fell at 5:11 to give State a two point lead.
William would answer a Baylor three to give the Bulldogs a 68-66 lead, but Nina Davis would find room inside for a short lay-up and the game was tied once again with 4:20 to play.
The final four minutes would boil down to a William driving lay-up to tie the game at 75 with the shot clock winding down and a late Baylor possession that led to a McCowan deflection. William's half court shot was errant, but the Bulldogs were headed to overtime.
"Well, we had a shot to win the game," Mulkey said. "(Alexis) Jones I thought took a good look there at the end of regulation, blocked it, or two or three of them collapsed on her there.
"I'll say it again. As good as they played and as poorly as we played in handling the basketball, we still had an opportunity to win, and we didn't."
In the extra stanza, Schaefer would knock down a pair of free throws, Baylor would hit a three and then Vivians would answer putting State up a pair. That lead would be short lived as the Bears would tie it at 80 on a pair of free throws of their own.
William would hit a long jumper with a foot on the three point line that would give State an 82-80 lead. Davis would make one of two to get the Bears within one. William would extend the State lead on a wide open three to bring the score to 85-81 with just 1:55 to play. A Jones free throw would inch the Bears closer at 85-82, but Vivians would make two from the line to add to the State advantage, 87-82.
William would make it a free throw contest that she was sure to win. The talented junior point guard would end the game with ball possession and a ticket to the Final Four as the Bulldogs emerged victorious, 94-85.
"I thought our kids were unflappable. I thought they were resilient," Schaefer said. "They showed tremendous toughness, a lot of character, and their heart. You have no idea what's inside their breastplate, but you saw it today displayed firsthand. They just played with a tremendous amount of poise.
"Our point guard was as good as they get today. She put us on her back. She led us. She was obviously feeling it."
Feeling it indeed. When the dust settled, William had tallied 41 points, seven assists, one block, one steal and zero turnovers. The 41 points from William set a new NCAA single game tournament record.
For her efforts, William was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Oklahoma City Regional. Joining her on the All Tournament team were teammates Teaira McCowan and Victoria Vivians.
It will be a quick turnaround for the Bulldogs who are set to leave for Dallas on Tuesday. Mississippi State will take on the winner of the Connecticut/Oregon game that will be played Monday night.