Steve Robertson -

Coach Enjoys NCAA Championship Run for Schaefer and Squad

Well of course, he was watching it. Or Dan Mullen and family were riiiiiiight up to the moment the neighborhood abruptly blacked out.

Just, Mullen said, as Morgan William’s jumper for the win got to the rim. “Itty-Bitty does a pull-up, I see it start to go through the hoop…pow!

“The power goes out on our street, the next street over, up the block! The whole thing shuts down! And I mean I’m like, I think it went in?”

It did. Did it ever. William’s 15-footer swished after time expired giving Mississippi State a history-making victory over Connecticut in Friday’s Final Four game. Not merely MSU history, but for women’s basketball.

Likely even college basketball, period. Knocking off unbeaten, four-time defending champions, and 111-straight-wins UConn sends Mississippi State to Sunday’s NCAA Championship. It is the first time a Lady Bulldog team will play for the national crown.

A win would be the first NCAA-recognized national championship of any team sport from Mississippi State as well. Though he couldn’t be there for the sport-changing victory Friday, Mullen was as much there in spirit as possible.

And, celebrating as much as anyone else involved with Bulldog sports.

“But it was a pretty special win. A great win for the girls, a great win for Vic (Schaefer). You can see what a great team’s all about, you know? I mean they play so hard. Every time adversity hits they don’t worry, they just play harder.”

If ever a Bulldog bunch faced adversity it was Schaefer’s squad. Though they had out-played and out-hustled the reigning champions, when Connecticut took a three-point lead at last and late…this was adversity distilled.

Yet Mullen was not at all surprised to see his school’s team ignore adversity and earn their ticket to the title game.

“You’ve got a team like that with leadership like that, you know you’ve got yourself a special group. They’ve got talent, too. But it’s different. You can have the talent but unless you play as hard as they play you’re not going to win. And they’re a special, special group.”

Dan Mullen knows something about special groups. He also knows about championship teams. Twice he was able to hoist a BCS Championship Trophy with Florida.

While Mississippi State football has yet to reach such rare air, the program has established a new level of consistent success under Mullen’s management. Even less-great years, like 2016, have been seasons to savor as those Bulldogs ignored their own adversity.

That team not only earned special bowl eligibility by A) routing rival Ole Miss by a modern record score; and B) receiving a NCAA exemption on post-season thanks to the program’s strong academics. Mullen also reestablished his edge and State’s status in the rivalry with a fifth win in eight years.

So maybe Mullen more than most can appreciate what Schaefer has done with Bulldog basketball. After all, before coming to Mississippi State in 2012 Schaefer had coached a NCAA Championship team at Texas A&M.

Watching his hoops peer on the verge of a Bulldog title now? “That’s pretty exciting,” said Mullen. “And it’s certainly exciting to get to watch them play. And for those girls in the moment.

“I mean you work your whole life for that opportunity and now they get the opportunity to go take advantage of. Let it go. Go have fun. You’ll see that shot a lot, but I know it will mean an awful lot more, that game will mean a lot more if we win the next one.”

If the Bulldogs do win Saturday, the football coach will be watching. The football team, too. Humphrey Coliseum will open at 4:00 for a watch party. Mullen isn’t sure where he will be at tipoff. The coach laughed at the idea he could crash with a certain Dallas Cowboy quarterback of his acquaintance, too. Regardless, Mullen will be tuned-in as intently as anyone in all Bulldog Country, as will his team.

“They’ve welcome to come over to my house and watch it!”

Where, one hopes, the power remains on all game. And for the celebrating afterwards.

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