Mississippi State ended Connecticut’s 111-game women’s basketball winning streak late last night.
That’s the great news.
The bad news?
Now the Bulldogs must turn around and beat a Southeastern Conference foe which defeated them twice prior to the NCAA tournament.
State plays South Carolina tomorrow at 5 p.m. Central for the national championship.
Certainly, nobody will term the Bulldogs’ season a failure if the Gamecocks prevail.
However, it will undoubtedly be a little disappointing for Vic Scaheffer and his charges, especially daughter Blair, a junior guard.
There is precedent which should give State optimism.
I can recall three specific instances where a team had to come down from an impressive victory and do it again 48 hours later.
Three words: Miracle on Ice.
Anyone who knows a little bit about sports probably knows the story of the United States’ 4-3 victory over the powerful Soviet Union during the 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey tournament.
Mike Eruzione’s goal with 10 minutes remaining against the Red Army turned out to be the game-winner.
However, it did NOT win the gold medal.
The Americans had to come back two days later, on a Sunday morning, and defeat Finland to win the gold.
If the Americans fell to the Finns, who were led by Jari Kurri, who would go on to be the Hall of Fame right winger on the Edmonton Oilers’ NHL dynasty of the 1980s, they might leave Lake Placid without a medal.
Sure enough, the Americans were down 2-1 through two periods.
According to Eruzione, coach Herb Brooks told his players if they lost, they “would take it to their graves. To their F***ING graves”.
Well, the Americans got the point, scored three goals in the third period, and won 4-2. As Al Michaels famously exclaimed, “This Impossible Dream comes true!”
There are two examples relevant to college basketball, too.
The more recent was in 1991.
UNLV came into the Final Four 34-0. The Runnin’ Rebels were the defending national champions, and the overwhelming favorite to repeat, led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.
The Rebels’ semifinal opponent was Duke, making its fifth trip to the Final Four in six seasons under Mike Krzyzewski.
Despite the Blue Devils’ success in the first four rounds of the tournament under Coach K, plus historical success under Bill Foster and Vic Bubas, Duke had zero national championships when it arrived in Indianapolis on Easter weekend.
In the 1990 championship game, UNLV eviscerated Duke 103-73, the largest margin in a title contest. That mark still stands as we sit six hours from the start of the 2017 Final Four.
Yet the Blue Devils gained their revenge, 79-77.
Some thought Duke would not be able to turn around and defeat a fine Kansas team coached by Roy Williams, but the Devils won 72-65. They repeated in 1992, and have added titles in 2001, 2010 and 2015.
Another Atlantic Coast Conference team was involved in the next example.
UCLA came into the 1974 Final Four seeking its eight consecutive national championship in what would be the final go-round for Bill Walton, who may be the greatest college basketball player ever. He certainly would be on my starting five, along with Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Oscar Robertson and Bill Bradley.
The Bruins came into the 1973-74 season with a 75-game winning streak. It reached 88 before they lost 71-70 to Notre Dame in South Bend. UCLA later lost back-to-back games in Corvallis and Eugene to Oregon State and Oregon, but regrouped and easily made it to Greensboro.
In December of that season, the Bruins easily defeated North Carolina State 84-66 in St. Louis. The Wolfpack, who went 27-0 in 1972-73 but was on probation and thus could not play in the NCAA tournament, featured David Thompson, one of the ACC’s all-time greats; 7-foor-4 center Tom Burleson, a 1972 Olympian; and Monte Towe, who stood only 5-foot-7, but was one of the nation’s best point guards of 1973-74.
NC State almost missed the 1974 tournament, too.
The Wolfpack had to survive one of the greatest college basketball games ever played in the ACC tournament championship game vs. Maryland, which featured All-Americans Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas.
In 1974, only the conference champion was eligible for the NCAA tournament. While almost every conference determined its representative through the regular season, the ACC held a tournament, which meant NC State would be out in the cold if it lost to the Terrapins.
The game was only televised in ACC country, meaning those in Los Angeles, Lawrence and Milwaukee, not to mention everywhere else, never saw it until ESPN Classic finally televised it in the late ’90s and again throughout the 2000s.
The Wolfpack prevailed in overtime, 103-100.
Exactly three weeks after that thriller, NC State returned to the site of the battle, the Greensboro Coliseum.
The Wolfpack did not have to leave the state during the 1974 NCAA tournament. The regional was in Raleigh at Reynolds Coliseum, and then NC State had to migrate only 80 miles west on Interstate 40 for the next step.
Only NC State and Marquette, which defeated Kansas in the first game of the 1974 Final Four, stood between the Bruins and tying the Boston Celtics for the most consecutive basketball championships in history.
The Wolfpack had other ideas.
The game went into a second overtime, and UCLA grabbed a seven-point lead. So long State, right?
In one of college basketball’s most stunning turnarounds, the Wolfpack outscored the Bruins 13-1 the rest of the second overtime and won 80-77.
Two nights later, the Wolfpack had little trouble defeating Marquette. Al McGuire would get his championship in 1977, when his Warriors defeated the Wolfpack’s archrival, the Tar Heels of Dean Smith, in the final in what would be McGuire’s last game as a coach.
As for the ladies from Starkville, the bad news is they have lost twice to South Carolina.
However, both games were in the Palmetto State, once at Columbia and once at Greenville in the SEC tournament final.
State should have the crowd on its side after the victory over UConn. Dak Prescott will be leading cheers for the cowbell crowd.
State and Carolina are all too familiar with a Goliath in their midst.
For the longest time, SEC women’s basketball was Tennessee and everyone else. Georgia had some good teams, LSU made five consecutive Final Fours, and Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt all got to the big stage, but the Lady Volunteers were too good.
Pat Summitt, who won over 1,000 games and led the Lady Vols to eight national championships, had a lot to do with that. God rest her soul. She was taken from us too soon.
Tennessee also had some damn good players. Chamique Holdsclaw. Tamika Catchings. Candace Parker. Holly Warlick, who is now the Lady Vols’ coach. Not to mention the role players who were so crucial, including my all-time favorite, Abby Conklin.
Today, the SEC is much more competitive. The Gamecocks and Bulldogs are the upper crust of the league, but Tennessee is still there, Texas A&M has a championship banner in Reed Arena (albeit in the Big 12), and Kentucky’s women are much more than a time killer waiting for the next men’s game.
There’s one flaw with UConn: the American Athletic Conference is very weak beyond the Huskies. When Louisville and Notre Dame left the old Big East for the ACC, it became UConn and a bunch of nothing in the new AAC.
Tulane nearly beat the Huskies in New Orleans in February, but that was more a fluke than an indication the Green Wave are on their way to being a consistent winner.
As much as I would like to see Tulane succeed, the Wave will always be a distant second behind LSU in my homeland. On the other hand, Tulane has certainly passed Louisiana Tech for #2 in the Bayou State. Tech once was right up there with Tennessee and Stanford amongst the sport’s blue bloods, but without Sonja Hogg, Leon Barmore and Kim Mulkey, it hasn’t been nearly the same in Ruston.
I’m guessing Dawn Staley has scheduled everything so she and her team can watch the Gamecock men play Gonzaga at 5:10 tonight. But something tells me that there won’t be two celebrations in Columbia.
I don’t think there will be one.
State wins tomorrow.
I was WRONG.
If you read the blog post before this one, I stated the belief the Connecticut Huskies could not be stopped en route to their fifth consecutive national championship and 12th under Geno Auriemma.
Instead of a press conference and a closed practice to prepare for Sunday’s championship game vs. South Carolina, the Huskies will be on their way to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport later today to board a plane which will ferry them to Bradley International Airport near Hartford.
The queen is dead. UConn’s 111-game winning streak is history.
No parades through Hartford and Storrs.
Mississippi State 66, UConn 64.
Not only did the Bulldogs take down the seemingly unbeatable Huskies, they did so after an egregiously bad call.
With under 20 seconds remaining in overtime and State ahead 64-62, the Bulldogs were called for a flagrant foul.
If that was a flagrant foul, then Don Denkinger’s call in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series was 1,000 percent correct.
Of course, the flagrant foul was nowhere near “flagrant”. It was only “flagrant” because it came in a game involving mighty UConn.
To nobody’s surprise, ESPN analyst Doris Burke said repeatedly the flagrant foul was the right call.
Come on, Doris. Anyone who knows anything about your background knows you harbor a secret crush on Geno. You live in New England and have lived and breathed UConn basketball (men too) for the last 30 years.
ESPN has shoved UConn down our throats for the last 22 years you want to vomit. Who’s their leading expert? REBECCA LOBO, who continues to be an unabashed shill for the Huskies. I’m sure Diana Taurasi has a job lined up at ESPN once she retires from the WNBA.
Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn’s unanimous All-American, sank two free throws to tie the game.
The Huskies got the ball back with the chance to win the game, but incredibly, they turned it over with 12.7 seconds left. Gabby Williams drove the lane, but she was cut off by Mogan William, State’s phenomenal 5-foot-5 point guard who scored 41 points in the regional final vs. Baylor. UConn wanted a foul, but incredibly, the officials swallowed their whistles and gave the ball to State.
State had trouble finding an open shot, but as time was about to expire, WIlliam pulled up from 15 feet just to the right of the lane.
Just like that, Mississippi State, the school with the lowest all-time winning percentage in the Southeastern Conference heading into the 2016-17 season, brought down Goliath.
This means two schools best known for baseball will be playing for the women’s basketball national championship Sunday. Not surprisingly, former baseball coaches are now the athletic directors at both schools: Ray Tanner at Carolina and John Cohen at State.
Sunday’s game will be the first All-SEC final since 1996, when Tennessee beat Georgia.
Friday’s shocker was UConn’s first loss to an SEC team in 10 years.
The last SEC team to beat UConn? LSU, in the 2007 West regional final in Fresno. What, UConn actually had to play in a regional outside the northeast? Unheard of today.
The Bayou Bengals’ coach the night of March 26, 2007? Bob Starkey, who was elevated to interim head coach following a scandal which forced LSU to fire Pokey Chatman in the week between the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
LSU beat UConn that night 73-50. In the Bayou Bengals’ next game, they set a Final Four record for futility by losing 58-35 to Rutgers.
Mississippi State is 1-0 in the women’s Final Four. LSU is 0-5. In fact, LSU has a dubious record: 0-11 in all Final Fours, men’s and women’s.
For all of the success State has enjoyed in baseball, it has never left Omaha as champion. Now, the Bulldogs can leave Dallas with a championship trophy on their first try Sunday.
If State wins Sunday, maybe the parade should stretch down Mississippi Highway 25 from Starkville to Jackson. Sure, the Ole Miss fans would bitch, but who cares?
State was not the biggest winner last night.
It was women’s basketball, period.
It had gotten to the point where the tournament was a mere formality, where 63 teams were basically playing for second place.
Now, other teams have hope. And not just Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame and South Carolina. But the up and comers, too.
Starting in Starkville.
Steve Spurrier woke up this morning as a former football coach (and full-time golfer).
Spurrier, AKA “The Ole’ Ball Coach”, announced his retirement last night. He is stepping down immediately from his post at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks are 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Spurrier’s final game on the sidelines was last Saturday in Baton Rouge, where South Carolina lost a “home” game to LSU 45-24. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Columbia, but due to severe flooding across much of the Palmetto State caused by Hurricane Joaquin and a stationary front, the decision was made last Wednesday to shift the game to Louisiana.
In nearly 26 seasons of coaching college football, Spurrier won 228 games at Duke (1987-89), Florida (1990-2001) and South Carolina (2005-15). In between Gainesville and Columbia, he had two-year stint with the Washington Redskins, where he went 11-21 before resigning at the end of the 2003 campaign. Spurrier led Florida to the 1996 national championship and five SEC championships, and guided South Carolina to back-to-back 11-win seasons, the first in school history.
Spurrier was an All-America quarterback for the Gators under the late Ray Graves, winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy and guiding Florida to victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl in what turned out to be the final game for the Yellow Jackets’ legendary coach, Bobby Dodd, whose name now adorns Tech’s stadium in Atlanta. Spurrier didn’t reach his pro potential with the 49ers and Buccaneers, but he stuck around 10 years because he certainly a cut above quite a few bozos who played quarterback in the NFL at that time, and he could also punt.
Those who are old enough to remember (read: 40 or closing in on 40) recall Spurrier coached for three seasons in the United States Football League with the Tampa Bay Bandits. The Bandits were arguably the most successful team in the spring league, at least at the box office, where the team routinely outdrew the Buccaneers, whose fans were beyond fed up with cheapskate owner Hugh Culverhouse. How bad was it for the Bucs? After winning the NFC Central in 1981, they would not experience another winning season (the 1982 strike-shortened season notwithstanding) until 1997, the year AFTER Spurrier coached Florida to its first national championship. I’m betting some of his better Gator teams would have been able to keep up with the Bucs of the mid-1980s, at least for a half.
When he was with the Redskins, Spurrier was ridiculed for not working hard enough, for playing too much golf, for delegating too much to his assistant coaches. That’s what I really like about Spurrier: he knows his limits. He knows that football is still a game, even where it is a religion, as it is at every SEC school, save Kentucky. He knows the importance of family, and always made sure his wife, Jeri, and the spouses of his assistant coaches were always welcome on the team charter. You certainly won’t find that in Manhattan, Kansas, where Bill Snyder works at least 20 hours per day and demands his assistants do the same. You won’t find it in Tuscaloosa, where Nick Saban wants his assistants to eat lunch at their desks like he does. Gerry DiNardo was a classic workaholic when he coached LSU from 1995-99. It didn’t get him far.
I thought of something last night when I heard the news. I realized Spurrier is the most notable coach who coached his last game at LSU.
Ironically, Spurrier’s predecessor (at least, permanent predecessor) in Gainesville, Galen Hall, also coached his last game in Baton Rouge, when Florida, led by Emmitt Smith, defeated LSU 16-13 on October 7, 1989. Hall was forced to resign four days later due to numerous NCAA rules violations. Those violations landed Florida on probation, and Spurrier was called in by then-Florida athletic director Bill Arnsparger, LSU’s coach from 1984-86, to clean up the mess. Spurrier not only cleaned up the mess–Florida was never investigated by the NCAA during his tenure–he won and won big. For that, he will always be revered in Gainesville, save for those Florida State and MIami alumni in the city, and rightly so.
The last LSU coach to coach his final game in Death Valley was Mike Archer, who was forced to resign with two games left in 1990. The Bayou Bengals defeated Tulane 16-13 to send Archer out with a 27-18-1 career ledger.
Speaking of the Green Wave, five coaches have ended their tenures in the Big Easy in Death Valley. Two, Andy Pilney and Tommy O’Boyle, were on the wrong end of 62-0 games in their finales in 1961 and 1965, respectively. Vince Gibson, meanwhile, led 28-point underdog Tulane to a 31-28 victory in 1982 over an LSU team which was going to the Orange Bowl and one week removed from routing Florida State 55-21.
Houston Nutt, like Hall and Gibson, won his last game coaching Arkansas in Tiger Stadium. The Razorbacks won 50-48 in three overtimes, yet LSU somehow won the BCS national championship, defeating Ohio State in New Orleans less than seven weeks later. It took losses by Kansas (KANSAS??!!!!!), Missouri (not even a tiny dot on the SEC’s radar in 2007) and West Virginia (not remotely interested in the Big 12 yet) for it to happen, but nobody’s coming to Baton Rouge requesting Les Miles relinquish the crystal ball.
South Carolina became the third Power 5 school to change coaches in less than three days. At least Spurrier left of his own volition.
That wasn’t the case at Maryland and USC, where Randy Edsall and Steve Sarkisian were terminated.
Maryland’s program got much better for kicking Edsall to the curb. He is a grade-A TURD. He left UConn without telling the Huskies face-to-face following their Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma on New Year’s Night 2011, instead flying directly from Phoenix to College Park for his introductory press conference with the Terrapins.
Edsall is such an uptight douchebag he makes Nick Saban look like the second incarnation of Bob Hope. He is all about rules, rules and more rules, and a coach can get away with it when a coach wins as much as Saban has at LSU and Alabama. When someone does it at a mediocre program, which Maryland is, it’s petty. Edsall would have made a former Maryland coach named Paul Bryant blush.
The Terps got what they richly deserved when they fired Maryland alum Ralph Friedgen following a 9-4 season in 2010. Edsall was 22-33 in College Park, and nobody in the Big Ten “Fears the Turtle”.
Sarkisian was fired after only 19 games at USC due to a substance abuse problem. Rumor has it he was intoxicated during the Trojans’ Sept. 26 game at Arizona State. It’s a sad ending for the former BYU quarterback and Washington coach, who called USC his “dream job”.
Don’t cry for Mr. Spurrier. I’m sure he’ll be spending plenty of time at Augusta National, where he is a member. Maybe someone will ask him to caddy for The Masters in the near future. That would be a sight to see Spurrier in one of those white jumpsuits.
If women’s college basketball fanatics wonder why their sport doesn’t get near the air time on sports highlight shows as men’s basketball, then all they need to do is turn to ESPN2 right now and their question will be answered.
Connecticut is once again stomping all over a hapless foe on its home court. Only this opponent is 22-0 and ranked first in both major Division I polls.
South Carolina has gone from Southeastern Conference doormat to powerhouse under Dawn Staley, who remains one of the greatest women’s basketball players the United States has ever known, even though her career at Virginia ended 23 years ago. Staley was also a three-time Olympic gold medalist for the Red, White and Blue before embarking on a successful coaching career, first at Temple and now at South Carolina, where she has pulled the Gamecocks up from the SEC’s abyss to its summit.
The Gamecocks were anointed as one of the pretenders to UConn’s throne last year when they were able to keep A’ja Wilson, widely regarded as the nation’s best female high school basketball player in 2013-14, in the Palmetto State instead of going to the Huskies. Carolina also returned the reigning SEC Player of the Year, Tiffany Mitchell.
It’s impressive to see how much women’s basketball has taken off in Columbia. Carolina is best known as a baseball superpower, evidenced by back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011 under Ray Tanner, now the Gamecocks’ athletic director. Gamecock fans have always been passionate about football, even though there have been some bad teams at Carolina, bottoming out at 1-10 in 1998 and 0-11 in 1999. Men’s basketball enjoyed success under Frank McGuire in the early 1970s and Eddie Fogler in the late 1990s, but otherwise the Gamecocks have been an also-ran.
UConn, the reigning national champion which went 40-0 in 2013-14, was naturally the unanimous number one coming into the season, but it fell from the top spot when it lost at Stanford early in the season. Since that loss in California, the Huskies have obliterated everything and anything in their path, wanting to send a message to the Gamecocks.
That message is resounding loud and clear. Carolina trailed 47-31 at halftime, and there’s no way any team, not even this year’s Gamecocks, can rally from that deficit in Storrs.
This game will once again show women’s basketball is an oligarchy, with UConn at a level so high into the ionosphere that nobody has any hope of catching them as long as the arrogant Geno Auriemma is calling the shots.
There’s no denying Auriemma is a master tactician, motivator and recruiter. He would never have sniffed 900 wins at UConn without possessing all of those talents in abundance.
However, Auriemma lacks humility, and that’s what turns off many people about the Huskies.
UConn won 90 consecutive games from 2007 through 2010, two more than the UCLA men won from 1971 through 1974. When the Huskies broke the record, he made sure to point out “women did this”.
First, Auriemma had no right whatsoever to claim the Huskies’ achievement was greater than UCLA’s. That’s comparing apples to kumquats. Second, we know Auriemma coaches women. Why rub it in? I wish Bill Walton would have found Geno and kicked him in the family jewels.
Why does anyone outside of Connecticut bother watching the NCAA women’s tournament? Anyone with half a brain can predict what’s going to happen at the end.
Another problem is the sheer lack of challengers to UConn. Unlike the men’s tournament, where at least 15 teams go in harboring legitimate title hopes, you can count the number of women’s teams with a realistic chance on one hand.
You will never see a Cinderella like Butler reach the championship game in the women’s tournament. You will never see a low seed like Villanova win it all. If you like watching the same team win it over and over and over, by all means tune in. Otherwise, you’d be better off watching NCIS reruns.