(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP). Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs guard Morgan William, right, is mobbed by guards Blair Schaefer (1) and Dominique Dillingham (00) after making the game-winning basket in overtime against Connecticut.
DALLAS, Texas – An upstart program from the Southeastern Conference changed the culture in the NCAA Women's Basketball Final Four with an upset that many thought would never happen.
Mississippi State's 66-64 thrilling overtime win against Connecticut Friday night at American Airlines Center is without any doubt the most spectacular moment in the history of the sport.
U-Conn's impressive 111-game winning streak was erased with Mississippi State enjoying its first ever appearance in the national semifinal and still with plenty left to show before the season is officially over on Sunday evening.
Mississippi State is joined by South Carolina in making this an all-SEC national championship game. South Carolina had to fight off a sluggish second quarter to rally and eliminate Stanford 62-53 prior to State's unbelievable battle with mighty U-Conn.
Yours truly, Tribune Sports Editor Johnny Thornton, was there to witness and experience a magical moment of what has made "March Madness" something that gets all the attention it certainly deserves.
Attending the NCAA Women's Final Four like many of the 19,000 that gathered in Dallas Friday evening, as a fan, I purchased a ticket to be a part of the semifinals and the national championship, following the same pattern when the Final Four was in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena three years ago (2014).
The difference this time, other than the trip to "Music City," was the SEC taking part with its two best teams in South Carolina and Mississippi State. The SEC has gone through a pattern of not having the label as the best women's conference in the country, thanks to U-Conn's four-year reign and other schools like Notre Dame, Baylor, Stanford, Maryland and Louisville proving they are worthy of deep runs into the postseason.
That's different in 2017 with Carolina and State getting the job done when the odds were stacked against both of them.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat were palpable inside the arena and certainly when the teams and their fans left the building as the game ended shortly before midnight, Dallas time.
U-Conn has been elite with four consecutive national championships, and six since 2009. The Lady Huskies took over as the storied program, a role that for years was controlled from a solid SEC school, the University of Tennessee and its legendary coach, the late Pat Summitt.
A new champion will take the throne for at least one season with U-Conn going back to the drawing board when they start preparing for the 2017-18 season in the summer and early fall.
The star of the women's tournament this year is a young lady not huge as far as her size, but with a tremendous heart and a gift for the game.
She happens to hail from the state of Alabama.
Morgan William played her prep ball at Shades Valley High in Birmingham. She left her high school as a state champion when the Lady Huskies won the 6A crown in 2014.
Three years later, William hit the shot that has been talked about tremendously through the NCAA's major network provider, ESPN, and many who compose information through social media.
Tourney Town is an event at the Final Four, similar to SEC Fan Fare at the SEC football championship game. Plenty of activities have been a part of the festivities with plenty of State and Carolina fans gathering at the event Saturday afternoon, adjacent to American Airlines Center.
Among the features were the battle of the pep bands with Mississippi State getting the edge by those who were judging.
Autograph sessions featuring the two teams took place in the late afternoon.
Former U-Conn All-American Breanna Stewart was in attendance for an autograph session. Stewart, the 2016 player of the year and no. 1 pick in last year's WNBA Draft, was behind the U-Conn bench Friday night, trying to lend support to her team, which was not enough.
So coming up Sunday at 5 p.m. in the state of Texas, the two best teams from the SEC, giant killers in March Madness 2017. This is the first time the conference has had two to play each other for the grand prize since 1996 when Tennessee defeated Georgia 83-65 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Never the less, the culture in NCAA women's basketball has changed drastically for one season because of the SEC and one special young lady from Birmingham, Alabama.
I am looking forward to being a part of an event that will be remembered by all of those on hand in the American Airlines Center.