By DOUG FEINBERG
DALLAS (AP) — When the final shot swished through the net and UConn’s record streak was over, all Geno Auriemma could do was smile.
The Huskies’ 111-game run came to a stunning end when Mississippi State pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in women’s basketball history, winning 66-64 on Morgan William’s overtime buzzer beater in the national semifinals Friday night.
“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Auriemma said. “It’s something I’ve been talking about to the guys all year long. I’ve been talking about it all year. We’re playing way above our years, way above our experience level and tonight it caught up to us when we needed to be more mature with what we’re doing.”
“We didn’t have it. A big part of it was because of what they were doing,” the coach said.
The Huskies hadn’t lost in 865 days, with that defeat coming to Stanford in overtime on Nov. 17, 2014. Winning had become routine, often by routs. But in an instant, their drive toward a fifth consecutive national championship had been blocked.
When William’s jumper dropped, Auriemma broke into that wry smile. He turned to his bench, then went to congratulate the Bulldogs.
“We had an incredible run, but we came up against a much better team tonight,” Auriemma said.
It took an incredible shot by Mississippi State’s diminutive point guard to end the historic streak.
William hit a 15-footer to cap it, moments after a replay review awarded UConn two free throws for a flagrant 1 foul call that tied the game with 26.6 seconds left.
“I live for moments like this,” William said. “UConn, they’re an incredible team. For me to make that shot against them, it’s unbelievable. I’m still in shock right now. I wanted to take the shot. I wanted to take the shot and I made it.”
The Bulldogs (34-4) will play South Carolina for the national championship Sunday night in a matchup of two SEC teams.
Mississippi State and UConn met in the Sweet 16 last season and the Huskies won by 60 points — the most-lopsided win in regional semifinals history. All season long the Bulldogs had that humiliating loss on their minds.
Now they’ve erased that defeat, beating UConn (36-1) on the grandest stage in one of the sport’s greatest games.
“I don’t have to play them 100 times. Only have to beat them once,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “That is one heck of a basketball team, the greatest of all-time. But how proud am I of my kids?”
Mississippi State led 64-62 before a replay review gave Katie Lou Samuelson the two free throws that tied the game. After a UConn turnover, William held the ball at the top of the key before dribbling to her right and pulling up for the shot, with the ball in the air when the buzzer sounded.
The Bulldogs ran onto the court, piling up at center court while UConn players stood stone-faced. Schaefer grabbed William in a bear hug, with former Mississippi State star Dak Prescott — the Dallas Cowboys quarterback — helping lead the cheers.
Prescott said he’d try to come back Sunday for the title game.
UConn rallied from a 16-point deficit, its biggest during its NCAA record streak, to take a 59-56 lead in the fourth quarter. The teams were tied at 60 when the Bulldogs had a chance to win it in regulation, but William’s shot was blocked by Gabby Williams, sending the game into overtime.
“Maybe we’re just not ready for this. Maybe we were ready for everything else, but maybe we’re just not mature enough for this,” Auriemma said. “Maybe all our young kids needed to experience this so that we can come back and really be ready for this.”
Neither team scored much in OT with Teaira McCowan’s layup with 1:12 left in the extra session breaking a 62-62 tie. It was the lone basket for Mississippi State in OT until William’s game-winner.
During their last two decades of dominance where they’ve won 11 national championships, the Huskies rarely found themselves trailing — let alone by double-digits. This was the first time this season that UConn was losing in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs got off to a great start, taking it right at the Huskies like not many teams had done during the streak. The Bulldogs led 15-13 before scoring 14 straight points to go up 29-13. It was the biggest deficit UConn had faced during its historic streak and one of the largest during the last 22 years, which the Huskies have dominated with 11 national championships.
The Huskies rallied to within 29-25 as senior Saniya Chong scored seven points during a 12-0 run. Mississippi State answered and was up 36-28 at the half.
UConn came back in the third quarter behind its trio of All-Americans with Williams, Napheesa Collier and Samuelson keying a 12-3 run to start the second half. That run brought Huskies alums Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore, who were sitting 20 rows behind the UConn bench, to their feet.
STREAK BUSTER: The loss ended a 28-game NCAA Tournament winning streak for UConn. The last loss came to Notre Dame in 2012 in the Final Four. That was the last OT game in the national semifinals.
QUARTERBACK CONNECTION: Prescott wasn’t the only QB in attendance on Friday night. Donovan McNabb was also in Dallas, cheering on niece Kia Nurse, who stars for Connecticut. Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson was supporting his sister Anna, who is a freshman at Stanford in the first game.
GOOD MORNING MISSISSIPPI: Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts was sitting at center court. She was cheering on the Bulldogs, who hail from her home state. Roberts brought out a Bulldogs jersey on her morning show.
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