Rick Cleveland

Mississippi State’s Morgan William is demanding her place in history

Mississippi State's Morgan William (2) celebrates at the conclusion of the regional final of the Women’s NCAA Tournament against Baylor, Sunday, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85.
Mississippi State's Morgan William (2) celebrates at the conclusion of the regional final of the Women’s NCAA Tournament against Baylor, Sunday, in Oklahoma City. Mississippi State won 94-85. AP

My job today is to try to put in historical perspective what Mississippi State’s Morgan William — the one they call Itty Bitty — accomplished Sunday night at Oklahoma City.

William, listed at 5 feet, 5 inches tall, scored 41 points, dished out seven assists and did not commit a turnover in Mississippi State’s Final Four berth-clinching, 94-85 victory over Baylor.

I can’t say it was the greatest athletic feat, men or women, in Mississippi history.

But I can’t say it wasn’t, either.

It was like hitting four home runs and making the winning catch in an NCAA Baseball Regional final. It was like throwing for 600 yards and five touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl. It was like shooting 59 in a big golf tournament. It was like running a 9.5-second 100 meters or bowling 300.

Heck, what William did is hard to put into 2017 perspective. She had scored only 12 points in three previous NCAA Tournament games. She was averaging about 10 points per game on the season. Her nightly job for the Mississippi State Bulldogs is that of facilitator, to get the ball into the hands of teammates in a place where they can shoot it and make baskets.

She did a lot of that Sunday, but she did a lot more.

As Baylor coach Kim Mulkey put it, “Their one kid kicked our rear.”

The 41 points, the seven assists, the zero turnovers are all remarkable numbers, especially the turnovers, when you consider the lightning pace of Sunday night’s game. But William was even better than those numbers, because Kristi Wallace, Baylor’s Australian point guard, fouled out trying to keep up with her. Wallace had nine points, four assists and seven turnovers.

Wallace is listed at 5 feet, 11 inches, a head taller than William, and she has been a star on Australian national teams.

So William really did kick Baylor’s rear. In a game that went to overtime and was eventually decided by nine points, William outscored her counterpart by 32 points and committed seven fewer turnovers.

And this all brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from my all-time favorite American philosopher, Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain. Said Twain, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

William was — and is — absolutely fearless. She’d drain a long 3 on one possession, then drive into the paint on the next. And when she’d drive in there where people more than a foot taller than she were waiting, you’d think, “Oh no!”

And then, when challenged by 6-foot-7 All-American Kalani Brown, William would somehow reach around Brown and deftly toss a perfect pass to Teaira McCowan for an easy bucket.

Ah, McCowan. To achieve what this Mississippi State team has achieved, you must have different people come through on different nights. To get to Baylor, Mississippi State had to first deal with Washington, led by the nation’s best female player, Kelsey Plum. McCowan scored 26 of her team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to help State advance. McCowan also had 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.

McCowan is 6 feet, 7 inches tall. When she and Itty Bitty stand side by side on the court, it looks like something out of a comic strip. McCowan is Mutt. William is Jeff. William comes up to McCowan’s waist. Believe this: Washington and Baylor are not laughing.

So, it’s on to Dallas where State goes after a national championship.

Yes, it is unlikely. But no more unlikely than the smallest player on the court scoring 41 points on the biggest stage of her life.

Sunday night at Oklahoma City, Morgan William wrote her own chapter of Mississippi sports history. Years and years from now, people will remember.

Rick Cleveland can be reached at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

Final Four

Who: Mississippi State women vs. UConn

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Dallas

TV: ESPN2

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