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Mississippi State coach defends Morgan William, 2017 title game decision

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Morgan William, Mississippi State's dynamic senior point guard, had left the news conference room at Nationwide Arena on Thursday when her coach, Vic Schaefer, spent several minutes enthusiastically defending her, and himself.

Last year, William watched the final quarter of the NCAA championship game from the bench as Schaefer went with then-sophomore Jazzmun Holmes at the point, a move widely questioned in the aftermath of Mississippi State's 67-55 loss to South Carolina.

Two days earlier, William hit one of the biggest shots in women's NCAA tournament history: a buzzer-beating, pull-up jumper from the right elbow in overtime that eliminated 11-time champion UConn and ended the Huskies' NCAA-record 111-game winning streak. The shot elevated the 5-foot-5 William into one of the biggest storylines in women's college basketball history.

On the night of the final, Schaefer said he sat William because Holmes brought more energy. William at the time declined to gripe about it. On Thursday, shortly before the 36-1 Bulldogs finished practice in advance of Friday's national semifinal against Louisville (36-2), Schaefer revisited it all in response to a question, accusing those who criticized William of not knowing the Bulldogs' personnel tendencies.

"Morgan William is a competitor," Schaefer said. "She is a tough, competitive cuss. She is the ultimate point guard. She is a hard worker. She is like one of my own. Some of the things that were speculated and written about last year, not fair. And I'm glad I've had the opportunity to bring that up, because that kid didn't deserve any of that."

Schaefer noted that an NCAA tournament game last year portended what he did in the final. In the second round against DePaul, he also went with Holmes over an ineffective William; Holmes went 25 minutes with 14 points, six assists and one turnover in the 92-71 victory. William, meanwhile, was scoreless in 15 minutes.

Against South Carolina, William appeared tired; she had eight points and four assists through three quarters after contributing 13 points and six assists against UConn and 41 points in the Oklahoma City Regional final against Baylor. That's why Schaefer said he played Holmes, who had six points in 17 minutes but no assists.

"Nobody wanted to write about it," Schaefer said. "They wanted to write about a fourth quarter [in the championship game] where I just felt like Jazzmun Holmes was playing a little better and had a little more energy. That's why she played. We did that all year.

"If you followed us this year, we've done the same thing. We've ham-and-egged it all year long. Mo right now is playing really well. She's played the bulk of the minutes lately because she's playing so well."

This season, William's minutes per game and scoring average are down because the Bulldogs have more scoring options, guard Victoria Vivians, an espnW third-team All-American, is averaging 19.6 points per game, and espnW first-team All-American and 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan is scoring 18.1 points per game.

William set a Mississippi State record for free throw percentage (.864) while averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 assists. Schaefer leaned on her heavily in the Bulldogs' last three NCAA tournament games, where she averaged 15.7 points and 5.0 assists in 33 minutes.

"First of all, Morgan is a great kid," Schaefer said. "Monica [Rory], her mother, did a tremendous job with her. High character. Tough. Competitor.

"This year, again, I've gone with who's hot, who's playing well, who's running the team right. Morgan hasn't had to score as much as years past, so her role changed as a point guard. She's shooting the ball well lately because she's been in the gym. She's worked really hard on her shot, and she's playing with a lot of confidence She's playing with a presence about her that I like to see in all of our players, especially a point guard."

Willam was not asked about last year's benching at the news conference. But she was happy to return to the Final Four for one last crack at an NCAA title.

"Last year's experience was great," she said. "Just to get back here, it's a blessing. It's hard to get back here two times in a row. So I'm glad we came back and made it back. We worked hard for this."