In order to get to championship Sunday, Mississippi State only had to win one of the greatest games in NCAA Women's Tournament history.
This game had everything, an overtime period, a buzzer beater, some late controversy and an upset of historic proportions as Mississippi State defeated #1 and top seeded Connecticut, 66-64.
Mississippi State came out fighting on the strength of a pair of three point baskets, one by Victoria Vivians and one banked in from the top of the key by Roshunda Johnson, to take an early lead.
The Bulldogs looked to be the more active team in the early going and held a 12-8 advantage at the first media timeout.
"The game is full of runs. Either you going to make a run right after them," Vivians said. "I feel like being ahead at the beginning, kind of keeping a lead, takes off a lot of pressure. Helps us to build our confidence and execute on defense."
Buoyed by the strength of a solid contingent of Bulldog fans and and even bigger anti-UCONN crowd, every State score resonated throughout the American Airlines Center.
The period would end with a pair of Breanna Richardson free throws that would push the State lead to 22-13. At quarter's end, UCONN was still looking for their first lead.
"They started the game obviously with an intensity, and they came out and they made a push fast. Kudos to them for that," Connecticut guard Kia Nurse offered.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs would pick up where they left off and build a 16 point advantage at 29-13.
The Huskies would answer with a 7-0 run that pulled them to within nine at the media timeout with 4:19 remaining in the first half. A pair of Saniya Chong free throws make it 29-22.
UCONN would pull closer, but Vivians would score seven straight to take the Bulldog lead back out to 10 at 36-26 with just under two minutes remaining in the first half.
As the teams hit the locker rooms for the intermission, the Bulldogs were barking and biting as well as leading the four time defending champs, 36-28. The halftime deficit was the first for UCONN all season.
In the first half, State out rebounded UCONN 21-11, forced nine Husky turnovers and simply played the part of the better team.
"It was very, very disjointed, that whole first half," UCONN head coach Geno Auriemma said. "There was no rhythm to our game. We usually have a tremendous flow. We just never got one in that first half especially.
"Obviously we got one in the second half. But the first half, you know, I can't even say I'm surprised. I mean, it's something I've been talking about to the guys that cover our team all year long. I've been talking about it all year."
State would open the third period with a basket, but then the Huskies found the range. A few forced shots from State and some string music from UCONN and the Bulldogs trailed for the first time at 40-39 with 5:44 remaining in the quarter.
Richardson would make one of two to bring the game even at 40 and it was clear the folks in attendance were in for an exciting finish.
The teams would essentially trade baskets like two heavy weights standing toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring to close out the third. With both brawlers sent to their respective corners at the horn, the game was tied once again at 48 all.
The Bulldogs entered the game knowing they needed to survive the first quarter and get to the fourth quarter with the game within reach. They had accomplished both goals with three quarters spent.
With 10:00 minutes of basketball left, could the Bulldogs finish?
William would connect on a jumper in the lane to give State a 50-48 lead at the 8:00 mark. It would be nip and tuck as the media timeout approached. Before time was called, Vivians scored on a spin move along the baseline to give State a 56-52 lead.
At the 2:42 mark, William would foul Chong sending her to the line where she would make both giving UCONN the lead, a basket in transition would put the Champs up three with two to play.
Vivians would drive the lane and draw the fourth foul on Williams. She would make one of two and we had a two point game at 59-57.
With 1:35 to play, the Bulldogs would have the ball back after a McCowan rebound on the defensive end. Vivians would drain a three to give State a 60-59 lead with just over a minute to play.
William would steal the in bounds pass, but the iron proved unkind. During the mad scramble for the rebound. Richardson would be called for over the back sending Napheesa Collier to the line. Collier would make one of two to tie the game at 60.
State would call timeout to set up the last shot. The Bulldogs would hold until the final seconds with William releasing the shot with just four ticks left, UCONN's Williams would block the shot. A half court Husky heave would miss the mark and an overtime period would be necessary to decide it.
Vivians would foul out with 3:57 to go on what looked like a sure jump ball. State would not get the call, but Williams would miss both leaving the game knotted at 60. 60, the same margin the Huskies defeated the Bulldogs last year in the Sweet Sixteen.
With 1:04 remaining, UCONN would call time out after McCowan scored from down low to give the Bulldogs a 64-62 lead.
State had a chance to expand the lead, but a Blair Schaefer three would sail long. UCONN would rebound and call time out in front of their bench down two with just 26 seconds left to play.
A flagrant foul on what looked to be a sure flop would give UCONN two free throws that Katie Lou Samuelson would convert to bring the game even at 64. Controversy surfaced over that late call. The review of what proved or more to the point was called a flagrant foul on Mississippi State's Dominique Dillingham came on a play two possessions earlier.
"Again, you know what, that probably got in our kids, and they're like, Okay, fine," Schaefer offered. "We'll do it. We'll do it this way. Because we've done it this way all year. Nothing's been easy for us."
"When that happened, we just -- once the coach kind of calmed down a little bit, we got 'em back together, I said, Hey, fine. This is right up our alley, ending the game on a defensive stop. Let's go make a stop. We did."
The Huskies would in-bound, but Chong would be called for a charge as she toppled over William and the stage was set for late drama once again.
Working off of a busted play, William would improvise. Dribbling to her right, the talented point guard lofted a shot over top of UCONN's Williams that found nothing but net and glory.
"When I made the shot, I was in shock. I'm still in shock." William said. "I'm over here like, 'Hey, I just won the game'. My teammates are just so happy and proud of me. I can't thank them enough because I can't be playing the way I'm playing without them.
"(Schaefer) said, You about to win the game. We want the ball in you are hands. Just in case they foul, free throw-wise, or just get a bucket."
The veteran coach's words proved prophetic as William made the game's final play. A play worthy of the final stanza in a game that defined March Madness.
"This was about two basketball teams, two great teams, competitors, tough, physical, aggressive basketball teams," Schaefer said. "We beat the greatest team, with the greatest streak in the history of sports. You got to give them a lot of credit. We didn't have to play them the best out of seven. Didn't have to play the best out of five. We just had to beat them one time, just beat them one time."
With the Bulldogs' win, the Southeastern Conference is assured of a National Title winner in women's hoops. Mississippi State and South Carolina will face of on Sunday to determine the 2017 champion. The title game berth is the first for both programs.
"We've got one heck of a team to get ready for, a tremendous staff. They're really, really good," Schaefer said. "They've obviously changed their system a little bit throughout the course of the season.
"But it's down to two of us. Southeastern Conference teams playing for the national championship. Hey, that's pretty special."