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.