Women's Final Four: South Carolina beats Mississippi State to win first national title

DALLAS -- A’ja Wilson’s double-double -- 23 points and 10 rebounds -- helped South Carolina capture its first women’s basketball national title, 67-55, over Mississippi State on Sunday night.

The title is the first to go to another team other than Connecticut since Baylor and Brittney Griner won in 2012. It marks another milestone in the career of Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic gold medalist who was named one of the top 15 players in WNBA history and who recently received the chance to succeed Geno Auriemma as USA Basketball coach. 

The win cements the reality in the public mind that had been clear to many, including Auriemma, for some time: The broadening talent base in women’s college basketball has also extended parity to the very top of the game.

The champion Gamecocks return Wilson, fellow juniors Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis, and point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore next season. Mississippi State will bring back hero of the Connecticut game Morgan William, leading scorer Victoria Vivians and 6-7 center Teaira McCowan. And with stars like Ohio State’s guard Kelsey Mitchell and Tennessee wing Diamond DeShields choosing to return to school rather than leaving early for the WNBA draft, the path to a national title next April in Columbus doesn’t figure to get any easier.

Put it this way: All five players on the all-tournament team this year -- Wilson, Gray, Vivians, William and Connecticut’s Gabby Williams -- are returning.

Of course, virtually everyone returns to a 36-1 Connecticut team as well, while the Huskies are adding elite transfers like center Azura Stevens and a recruiting class headed by top overall high school senior Megan Walker.

It all promises that one of the most interesting seasons in women’s basketball anyone can remember here in 2016-17 may be merely prologue to the season ahead.

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