Dominique Dillingham (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

South Carolina gets the better of Mississippi State once again.

DALLAS, TX - There is an old adage in sports that suggests that it is difficult to beat the same team three times in a given season. South Carolina did just that on their way to the program's first National Championship in Women's basketball as they knocked off Mississipppi State, 67-55.

Mississippi State would win the opening tip and get started early as junior Victoria Vivians first shot would find the bottom of the net and get the Bulldogs out to a 3-0 lead. Vivians next shot would also prove true to make it 5-1 with just over two minutes gone.

The Gamecocks would pull even at seven all thanks to a transition basket by Bianca Cuevas-Moore. A Dominque Dillingham jumper would break that tie.

State would hold a 9-8 lead at the first media timeout with center Tearia McCowan headed to the line after action resumed. McCowan would make one of two.

The Gamecocks would tie the game once again at 12, but a Jazzmun Holmes' drive to the hoop would put the Bulldogs ahead at 14-12 with just under two minutes remaining in the opening period. It would prove to be the final advantage Mississippi State would enjoy on the evening.

"Yeah, we were up 7-3 at the beginning. They made a run. We weren't executing offensively," Dillingham said. "There's no (other) way to put it. We just weren't executing offensively. We weren't putting the ball in the basket and we weren't getting stops, which doesn't have a good recipe.

"I think defense is a really big key for us, and we weren't playing well defensively, which doesn't lead to points for us. I think it started defensively."

South Carolina would take their first lead of the game on two free throws from Kaela Davis who was sent to the line after a blocking call on Dillingham. This pro-MSU crowd would rain boos down on the officials to no avail.

After one, South Carolina would lead 18-14 on the strength of eight or ten shooting from the free throw line.

The Gamecocks would take their lead out to seven with 8:05 to go in the half. Morgan William would break the State cold streak with a lay-up to cut the State deficit to five at 21-16.

State would have trouble finding rhythm against a strong man-to-man South Carolina defense leading Coach Vic Schaefer to call time out with his Bulldogs down 25-16 with 6:38 to go in the half.

The sideline talk had little impact on the Gamecock momentum. The South Carolina lead would swell to 31-18, before a pair of William free throws would stop the bleeding. Chenwie Okorie would sink a shot from just outside the free throw line to cut the Carolina lead to nine. South Carolina would call time out with State on a 4-0 run at 2:05 remaining in the first half.

The half would end on rushed State possession that yielded a last second heave from Carolina that just missed. After twenty minutes of Championship basketball, the Gamecocks would lead by ten, 36-26.

Alisha Gray and A'Ja Wilson would have 11 first half points a piece to pace South Carolina. Dillingham and Vivians would chip in seven each for State. The Gamecocks would lead by as many as 13 in the first half.

South Carolina would take their lead out to as many as 14 in the third quarter, but Dillingham would start a rally after another Bulldog cold spell with a three pointer. The media timeout would find State down just nine with 4:03 to go in the period.

State would rachet up the pressure out of the huddle. William would steal the in bounds and race for a basket bringing the State ladies within seven. A Ketara Chapel jumper would make it 45-40. State had the momentum and the crowd.

The Bulldogs would get as close as four, but a Davis' jumper would close the period with South Carolina ahead 52-44.

Schaefer would dial up some defensive mastery and turn the tide in the early portion of the final quarter. The Bulldogs would pull to within 54-50, before South Carolina would counter with a pair of baskets to take their lead back out to eight with 4:47 to go in the game.

"We cut it to 54-50. I don't know what the time was on the clock. We had possession, if I'm not mistaken. Took two really bad shots," Schaefer shared. "They go down, then we come down, have an unforced turnover and leave it for them at the top of the key and they go lay it in and it goes to 58-50."

Down the stretch, State simply had no answer for Wilson on eitherr end of the court. The SEC's top player put her team on her back and carried them to a National Title.

"A'ja is a great player. We've been dealing with her for three years," Chapel said. "She's tough. We had a hard time guarding her tonight. I don't know. She's a really great player, so it's hard to try to match her intensity."

Wilson led all scorers with 23 points. Vivians would hold the high mark for State with 12.

In the final moments, both benches would empty. The Mississippi State senior quartet of Chapel, Dillingham, Okorie and Richardson would all have their curtain call on the grandest stage college basketball has to offer.

"They believed in a vision five years ago really, when we recruited them," Schaefer said. "They've been here four. When it wasn't easy to believe. Coach Harris and myself were part of that original staff.

"These kids believed. They made it happen. We didn't get here by accident. We came through a really tough regional. These kids deserve all the credit for that.

"Today doesn't define us. It certainly doesn't define this team or this season. They had one heck of a year. I just want these kids, especially those seniors, to know how much I love 'em, appreciate 'em. They're always going to be special in my heart, have a special place in my heart because of what they've accomplished, for believing and trusting us."

Mississippi State ends the season 34-5. Three of those losses coming at the hands of South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won 11 straight in the series against the Bulldogs. The National Championship game appearance was the first for Mississippi State. Schaefer vowed on Sunday that the Bulldogs have plans to be an NCAA tournament mainstay.

"Appreciate everybody being here today. I'm disappointed we didn't play better for you," Schaefer said. "It wasn't that we didn't try. Again, you have to take your hats off to South Carolina and Dawn Staley for a tremendous effort today.

"But we'll be back. Again, it's been a heck of a ride. I appreciate everybody in here. It's been fun. Thank you for being here."

For their efforts on the weekend. both Vivians and William were named to the All Tournament team. That pair of juniors will return to the Bulldog back court next season as the Bulldogs are expected to garner top ten pre-season consideration.


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