KUNM

Mississippi State Defeats UConn In Final Four Upset

Apr 1, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And, boy, do we have a sports story today.

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SIMON: Hell has frozen over. Pigs soar through the sky as we speak. One of the biggest upsets in college basketball history last night as the Mississippi State Bulldogs upset - I'll say they upset them - UConn 66 to 64 in overtime at the Women's Final Four. UConn had won 111 straight games. We're joined now by the distinguished sports impresario who told us two weeks ago this would never happen, NPR's Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter).

SIMON: He's in Phoenix at the site of the Final Four. What do you figure - Russian meddling?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, oh, definitely - hacking the whole thing - had to be. Absolutely, yeah.

SIMON: So, I mean, just a year ago at the women's tournament, UConn beat Mississippi State by 60 points that - I don't misspeak - 60 points. So what happened in the intervening year?

GOLDMAN: Good question. I mean, this - this Mississippi State team was a better team than the one that got walloped by 60 points. The Bulldogs, you know, they beat a very good Baylor team to get into the Final Four and have this match up with UConn, and they have a very good, very tiny point guard - 5 foot 5 inch Morgan William who scored 41 points against Baylor. But of course, the feeling was, yes, that was Baylor, but this is UConn, winners of, as you say, 111 straight games - longest winning streak in Division I history - and the Huskies would find a way to, you know, versus Mississippi State as they had in every game since their last loss in, oh, November of 2014. But, Scott, they didn't. They got outplayed. Mississippi State's defense took away UConn's comfort zones, and UConn never really recovered.

SIMON: That incredible finish. Take whatever time you need to talk about it, the great Morgan William. Go ahead.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, she drives the ball to the right of the key with a few seconds left in overtime, pulls up for a jump shot, went through the net as the buzzer sounded. I mean, streak over - Goliath toppled. And - and here go the Bulldogs. They play South Carolina in tomorrow's championship game. For the first time since 2012, we'll have a women's champion not named UConn.

SIMON: This is a great moment in sports history, and obviously a great moment for Mississippi State. That being said, this wasn't last year's UConn team.

GOLDMAN: It wasn't, Scott. You know, led by three seniors who were the first three taken in the WNBA draft. You know, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma talked about how this team didn't have the maturity you need this time of year, and indeed for all the prognosticators who predicted another sweep to the title for UConn, the ones who follow the team closely offered that caveat that the key players on this team didn't have a lot of big game tournament experience that could matter in close games, and it did last night. UConn rushed shots. The Huskies forced passes that became turnovers. They had the ball, score tied, with about 26 seconds left in overtime, and they just had to run the clock down and take a last shot. But instead one of two players drove to the hoop 12 seconds left, turned over the ball, and that led to William's winning shot.

SIMON: Boy, you're in Phoenix. And I understand that men play basketball this year too, right? There's a - there's a Final Four. South Carolina plays Gonzaga. Oregon plays North Carolina, right? North Carolina. They do play basketball there, right?

GOLDMAN: Right, right, exactly. Yeah. And, you know, it's a high bar the women set last night, but I think there will be some excitement today. You've got two teams in their first Final Four - South Carolina and Gonzaga. One team that hasn't been this far since it won the first NCAA tournament in 1939 - that's Oregon. And then, you've got North Carolina trying to redeem itself after losing in last year's title game at the buzzer. The predictors have Gonzaga beating South Carolina because it's such a well-rounded deep team that plays great defense and can score. And then North Carolina over Oregon but not by much because of North Carolina's size and the fact that Oregon has been missing one of its top big men the entire tournament. And this is the game where his absence might be felt. But, Scott, after UConn, I am not predicting anything.

SIMON: All right. NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much. By the way, baseball opens tomorrow. Go, Cubs, go. Go - oh, wait, they're cutting my mic. Tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday - they opened it again - NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles about what he was doing on Capitol Hill this past week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.