Reed alum and UConn star Gabby Williams discusses shocking overtime Final Four loss to Mississippi State on ESPN Radio 94.5 FM
The term March Madness wasn’t fabricated from thin air.
The month, and the beloved NCAA Tournament it houses, is known for producing shocking results, for busting brackets, for taking the casual observer’s money.
Pundits go back and forth and ultimately, they don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody does. Remember, it’s madness. Reason rarely applies – on the men’s side at least.
The outcome in the women’s tournament seemed a foregone conclusion. Riding the longest winning streak in NCAA history, UConn was going to win its fifth straight national title. Mississippi State thought not and provided the upset of the year, snapping the Huskies’ winning streak at 111 games with a buzzer beater in overtime. Madness.
Reed grad and UConn junior Gabby Williams talked about the defeat, and her season, Friday afternoon on the Nathan Shoup Show on ESPN Radio 94.5 FM.
Williams was named a second team AP all American and was the only UConn player selected to the Final Four All-Tournament team. She scored a game-high 21 points, pulled down eight rebounds and blocked four shots, including denying a shot in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime.
Mississippi State went on to fall to South Carolina in the national title game two days later, 67-55.
That was an unfamiliar spot for you guys. You had won 111 straight. It was the first time you played at UConn and left the floor without a win, so what was the message from (coach) Geno (Auriemma) to you? And the team, after? Because that’s not a speech he’s had to give you guys a lot.
It was pretty tough. Coach just told us that it was going to hurt. I’m sure people have seen the HBO special and he was just telling us that it’s going to sting for a while, kind of thing.
He just told us that we were going to grow from it and there’s nothing we can do about it now.
Has that sting lessened at all … or is it still pretty fresh?
Uh, no, it’s pretty fresh. After the game, there were alumni there, and they were like ‘girl, my ’91 loss still hurts.’ I think it’s something that’s going to sting for a while.
The bar is set so unfathomably high at UConn. It feels like every year you’re expected to go undefeated, you’re expected to win a national title, and all you did this year is win 111 straight, you go to the Final Four, you personally are named a second-team AP all American. So I guess from you, and from the team’s perspective, how to judge this season? How do you feel about this season? Because pretty much every other program in the country would determine this season a smashing success.
Considering what we did, and the circumstances losing three leaders (to graduation), losing the three best players in the country, and still being able to perform the way we did (was good). We had guys who were in roles they’ve never been in before. I think we had one who had a familiar role. With any team, not just UConn, that’s really difficult.
Considering that we did what we did, I don’t think that one game should diminish what we did over the season. But at the end of the day, that is our goal and we didn’t really reach it.
You guys were down early, another unfamiliar spot because you won so many games so comfortably, and you battle back, and I think it was a tie game to start the fourth quarter. You were right there, maybe had a slight lead, was there a feeling within the team that you had gotten over the hump? And you were there?
We were down 16 and ended up being up five at one point, which means we outscored them by 21 points. Once we kind of got back into the game, we’re used to, kind of, just running away with it. I personally thought that was going to happen. I thought ‘OK, this is the time where we go on our run and get going,’
But it just never happened.
Last time you played (Mississippi State) in the NCAA Tournament (last year), you won by 60. It was a different story this year, William hitting that crazy shot in overtime. If you had to say there was a difference between the two games, a difference between the two different teams both schools rolled out for those games, what would you say that was?
I think the roles kind of reversed. Last year when we played them, they looked like, kind of, deer in headlights. They were on a stage they weren’t familiar with. We had guys who’ve been there a million times and knew exactly what to do.
This year, it was opposite. We were the deer in headlights. We were the young guys in a position we’d never been in before. It just felt like they had control of the whole game.
You handled it all year. Everyone is looking at you. The 100th win in a row was blown up by ESPN. But now, you’re playing in the Final Four, in the biggest stage that sport has to offer, and everyone is talking about the winning streak and everyone is penciling you in as national champions. What is that feeling like playing on the team, because everybody is looking at you guys and not saying you should win, but expecting you to win?
You just have to take it one day at a time honestly. I know that’s the cheesy answer nobody wants to hear, but that’s the only way to get it done. If you start thinking ahead, things kind of fall apart.
Same thing is you get all the recognition when things are going well. We got the documentary, we were praised on ESPN all the time. Whenever they were talking about women’s basketball, they were talking about us. But at the same time, we lose and everybody sees that too.
You see both sides of it.
What was the reaction on campus once you got back?
Very different. This is the first time I’ve been on the team and we didn’t come back with a national championship. There’s no praise. No celebrations. You walk around campus and kind of get the sad look from everybody, the look you don’t really want, like ‘it’s okay,’ when you know it’s really not okay.
Let’s talk about more fun stuff, we don’t need to linger on (last) Friday. You personally had an incredible year. You blew up the stat sheet. As I mentioned, you were named a second-team AP all American. A lot of people, Doris Burke one of them, thought you should have been a first-team all American … Do you feel you got jobbed, that you should have been a first teamer?
I’m not going answer that. I have respect for anyone’s decisions and that’s a really tough job to pick five people. I was happy I made first team ESPNW and WBCA teams. And I was thankful enough to be on the second team AP. I love Doris. Doris knows I love her, so it’s good to hear things like that from her.
But I’m not going to say anything about people’s decisions because I wouldn’t want to be put in that position.
Alright a very professional answer, a politically correct answer. Way to go, Gabby. In the Elite Eight, your matchup was sprinkled with a little Reno dust. You played (Oregon’s) Mallory McGwire who played at Reno. What was that like getting to play Mallory on that stage?
What was so weird about that, I mean I was really excited, I was rooting for Oregon the whole tournament. But was so weird about that was that was probably the most Mallory and I played against each other. Because I was a guard in high school.
And so the fact I was matched up with her, and I was like ‘this is the most I’ve ever had to guard Mallory and she has to guard me,’ so that was the funny part about it.
Another fun story, this came out a couple weeks ago. Geno told you that he scheduled a game against Nevada so you’re coming to Lawlor for your senior year, kind of a senior game for you. You get to come home, get to play in front of the home crowd. What are your thoughts on that? How cool is that going to be getting to play a game in Reno?
Yeah, it’s so crazy that they did that. I didn’t expect it. I just assumed I wouldn’t get a senior game because it’s however many miles away. I wasn’t upset about it. I have friends and family who have supported me my entire life who’ve never seen me play in college. So, it’s really cool they finally get the opportunity to see me play.
Have you thought about it all? Because that is going to be the most anticipated women’s game ever at Lawlor, you coming home and playing for presumably the No. 1 team in the county, playing here in Reno. Have you thought at all about what the experience is going to be like?
I’m just anxious … I’m just really excited to see everybody and I’m excited with their new coach and everything. I still know a lot of players on the team. So, I feel like it’s going to be just fun.
Gabby, I’ll get you out of here on this. I know you’re a perfectionist, you’re always working on your game. Your junior season ended just a week ago, so how much a layoff are you giving yourself before you really start ramping up for senior year?
I gave myself a week where I didn’t even watch any basketball after we lost. The only time I’ve been in the gym, I wasn’t paying attention to basketball. I was just there to grab stuff from my locker. I pushed basketball out of my mind for this week and I’ll probably get some shots up (last Saturday).