Top image: South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson (22) shoots over Mississippi State defenders during the title game of the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament on April 2, 2017, at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Credit: © Ben Solomon, Getty Images
Carolina (North & South) college basketball reached its apex over the past couple nights as the men’s and women’s NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments came to a close. On the women’s side Sunday night, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks downed the Mississippi State University Bulldogs 67-55 to win their first NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) championship. Last night, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels men claimed their sixth national title with a 71-65 win over the Gonzaga University Bulldogs (of Spokane, Washington).
Sunday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, South Carolina jumped out to a quick lead on Mississippi State and never looked back. The Gamecocks led by 10 at halftime and hovered around that advantage for the rest of the game. The Bulldogs closed to within 5 points at one point in the fourth quarter, but South Carolina responded with a 12-2 run to put the game away. It was the third match-up this season between the Southeastern Conference rivals, and Mississippi State was on the losing end all three times.
South Carolina junior forward A’ja Wilson scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the title clincher and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player (MOP). South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley became the first former women’s MOP to also lead a team to an NCAA title. Staley earned MOP honors playing guard for the University of Virginia in the 1991 tournament.
Mississippi State fell short of a title, but the Bulldogs earned respect throughout the country two nights earlier when they knocked off the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies in the semifinals. Mighty UConn had won 111 consecutive games and the last four NCAA women’s national championships.
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson dunks in the final minute of the Tar Heels’ 71-65 victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA Division I men’s tournament final on April 3, 2017, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Credit: © Chris Steppig, Getty Images
On Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, Gonzaga led early as North Carolina suffered from poor shooting, and the Bulldogs took a three-point lead into halftime. The two powerhouse number 1 seeds then pushed each other through a second half of back-and-forth action and constant lead changes. The score remained tight as Gonzaga took a 65-63 lead with 1:55 left on the clock. The rest of the game was all Tar Heels, however, and–amid a series of wild plays–they scored the last 8 points of the game to win the title. North Carolina junior guard Joel Berry II led the Tar Heels with 22 points and earned tournament MOP honors.
North Carolina avenged last year’s loss in the tournament, and South Carolina won the prize for the first time: a good wrap to the college basketball season for the Carolinas. For Bulldogs fans in Mississippi and Washington, the heartbreaking finish capped an exciting run that saw both Mississippi State and Gonzaga reach their first-ever championship games.
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