DALLAS -- Mississippi State's Teaira McCowan is one of the tallest players in women's college basketball at 6 feet, 7 inches, and so it makes sense that teammate Morgan William would want to shoot over her during practice. William figures if she can get her shot off over McCowan, she can do it against anybody.
Friday night in the national semifinals, the 5-5 (yeah, right) William went for winning shots twice against UConn's Gabby Williams, who is 5-11 but has amazing hops. The first one, at the end of regulation, Williams blocked. The second one, at the end of overtime, soared over her fingertips as the clock was winding down to zero.
That one swished, and once again, Morgan William had stolen the show at the women's NCAA tournament, leading Mississippi State past top-ranked UConn 66-64.
"Ain't any shots bigger than the one she hit tonight," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said of William's jumper that turned American Airlines Center into bedlam.
"It's March Madness, and they say, 'Get hot at the perfect time,' " William said. "I guess I'm just hot right now."
"One play doesn't cost you a game. But a lot of times, you know, one play will win you a game. That's exactly what she did."Geno Auriemma on Morgan William's game winner
The Bulldogs pulled off one of the all-time upsets in women's hoops, ending UConn's 111-game winning streak and ensuring somebody besides the Huskies is going to win the 2017 NCAA title. Mississippi State will play South Carolina in an all-SEC national championship game Sunday (ESPN/WatchESPN, 6 p.m. ET).
Who was surprised that William was the hero? Not the Mississippi State players who see her every day.
"She shoots over me," McCowan said. "So for her to knock down that shot, it was something I knew she was already capable of doing."
Or as teammate Dominique Dillingham said of her diminutive teammate, "She's fierce. She's a competitor. She's not going to back down from anybody. She has an attack mentality, and when the game is late, she wants the ball in her hands. She's going to create, and do whatever it takes to win."
As for who's the most fearless about taking a charge, the 5-9 Dillingham laughed. She and William both excel at that. But William is smaller, so she perhaps has to be a little braver.
"It may be a tie," Dillingham said. "We'll both stick our nose in there."
The "Bulldog" mentality that Schaefer has brought to Mississippi State is embodied by players such as the senior Dillingham and the junior William. Defense is what Schaefer has hung his hat on for a lot of his career, which included 15 years as an assistant to Gary Blair, first at Arkansas and then at Texas A&M.
And William has been a terrific defensive player for Mississippi State. She can bug the living heck out of players she guards, and they often find it difficult to bother her back nearly as much. Basketball might be, in general, a tall person's game, but there is still something to be said for being so close to the ground.
"She's so tiny, and so fast, it's hard to keep up with her," said teammate Ketara Chapel, who sometimes has to guard William in practice. "She can get by anybody."
And in the past week, William has had the two biggest games of her life. In fact, two of the most notable in NCAA tournament history.
Sunday in the Oklahoma City Regional final, she had 41 points, seven assists and no turnovers in an overtime victory against No. 1 seed Baylor. She spoke after that game about dedicating it to her stepfather, Donnie Rory, who had worked so hard to help her develop as a player but died during her senior year in high school.
But if that was an overall performance for the ages, what she did Friday was hit a shot for the ages.
"We had to redeem ourselves from last year," William said in regard to the Bulldogs' 60-point loss to UConn in the Sweet 16. "I had the ball in my hands, and time was about to run out. So I got a little elevation and knocked the shot down."
William probably attempted more shots than she wanted to, making 6 of 17 for 13 points. But she also did what she usually does best: run the team and get a game-high six assists. She had two turnovers -- which is two too many for her standards -- but also helped force UConn into 17.
Just as turnovers were a big factor in the Bulldogs' win over Baylor -- the Lady Bears also had 17 -- the giveaways hurt UConn, too. Mississippi State scored 12 points off turnovers, and UConn scored 10. It's not often that the Huskies lose that statistic. But it happened Friday, helping produce a final result that very few were expecting to take place.
And when the buzzer sounded, William started running toward the sidelines. She was celebrating, but also knew she was about to be on the bottom of a pile of overjoyed teammates.
"One play doesn't cost you a game," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "But a lot of times, you know, one play will win you a game. That's exactly what she did."
William knows her performances have given a boost to a lot of people, and that makes her happy.
"It's incredible," she said, mentioning one young girl in particular from her home state of Alabama who is a huge fan and was able to come to the Final Four. "To inspire little kids who are the same height as me, it's like I'm giving something back. And that's a great feeling."