A new Dawn: Gamecocks win first national championship against Bulldogs

For the first time ever, the South Carolina Gamecocks are the national champions in women’s basketball.

Behind the coaching of Dawn Staley and double-digit scoring of A’ja Wilson, Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis, the Gamecocks defeated Mississippi State 67-55 in the national championship game in Dallas Sunday.

"I really can't even put into words the feeling of how much it meant to win this game for Coach," Wilson said. "It really means something special to kind of bring this back home, especially for such a great person like Coach Staley."

MSU opened play on a 7-1 run, as the Gamecocks didn’t make a field goal in the first 2 1/2 minutes. Wilson hit the first field goal for the Gamecocks on a jumper near the baseline, cutting MSU’s lead to four.

South Carolina trailed until the 24 second mark in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Doniyah Cliney drew a foul and sank both free throws, giving the Gamecocks their first lead of the game, 16-14. MSU ended the first quarter on a nearly three-minute scoring drought, shooting 0-for-5 from the field. Gray drove into the lane, drew a foul and sank both free throws, putting the Gamecocks up 18-14.

"Mississippi State is a very good defensive team," Staley said. They're also a team that fouls a lot. We wanted to make sure that we put 'em back on their heels, put them back in situations in which we were going to make the officials make a call, whether it was a charge, whether it was a block, whether it was a reach-in."

Similar to the first quarter, MSU went on a five-minute field goal scoring drought in the second quarter, allowing South Carolina to reach a 36-26 halftime lead.

Wilson and Gray reached double figures in the first half with 11 points each, while the guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore held Morgan William, who hit the game-winning jumper against UConn in the Final Four, to five points.

"I mean, we just played hard. I'm a great defender, and we wanted to make it hard for them," Cuevas-Moore said.

The Gamecocks did not attempt a single 3-pointer in the first half, but shot 46.2 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line. They outrebounded the Bulldogs by eight, continuously crashing the glass in order to create more scoring opportunities.

But the Bulldogs didn't disappear that easily.

Midway through the third quarter, MSU put together a 9-0 run on perfect (5-of-5) field goal shooting, cutting the Gamecocks' once 14-point lead to five. At the buzzer, Davis nailed a pullup jumper to give the Gamecocks an eight-point lead, sending them into the final 10 minutes of their season.

"We stuck to our game plan and stayed aggressive," Davis said. "With them, their biggest thing is rebounding, so we knew that if we came in and got stops and were aggressive in rebounding the ball, we really liked our chances." 

Davis’ jumper seemed to put momentum in the Gamecocks' favor. But a three-minute scoring drought allowed the Bulldogs to pull within four with 6:52 remaining. Two back-to-back jumpers from Wilson and Gray put the Gamecocks up eight at the under-five media timeout.

With 3:16 to go, Wilson took over and delivered the final dagger. The All-American scored three-straight baskets, leading the Gamecocks to a 14-point lead. Her teammates watched, stood up and punched their fists in realization of the program’s first ever national championship.  

Wilson, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, led with 23 points, while Gray finished with 18 and Davis finished with 10. 

"I just kind of play my game and just stick within myself, play my role, whether it's being dominant, being a good teammate. I try to stay within my role and helping out my teammate as much as I can, Wilson said. 

"That's our season, attacking in paint, paint dominance. We kept doing that, and got the win."

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