Morgan William on sitting late in NCAA final: I wasn't bringing enough energy

DALLAS -- Guard Morgan William sat in the Mississippi State locker room hunched over in a chair Sunday night. Her fingers kept pinching at her legs, as if she were trying to wake herself from a bad dream.

This is how it goes sometimes in the NCAA tournament. You have the biggest moment of your playing career one night, and less than 48 hours later you feel crushed. What usually doesn't happen, though, is that a player who was the star in two consecutive victories over No. 1 seeds -- whose jump shot ended UConn's 111-game winning streak -- sits on the bench for the fourth quarter of the national championship game.

But that's what happened to William, who played just 23 minutes, with eight points and four assists, in the Bulldogs' 67-55 loss to South Carolina in the women's NCAA final on Sunday. William wasn't in foul trouble, and she wasn't injured.

William said she was ready to go back into the game the second coach Vic Schaefer called her name. But as the final 10 minutes of the season ticked away, she never took the floor as sophomore Jazzmun Holmes mostly ran the point.

"Coach wanted more energy, and I guess I wasn't bringing enough," William said. "I'm not mad; Jazz did a good job. She had good energy on defense and offense, and she scored and made good passes. I'm proud of her."

Asked if Schaefer said anything to her about not putting her back in the game, William said, "He shouldn't have to. He's the coach. I'm just a player. Whatever he thinks is best, that's best for the team. I was just cheering my teammates on from the bench, just try to keep them going."

Fans watching the game in person and on television may have been puzzled, though, about why Schaefer never went back to William, the junior whose heroics against Baylor in the regional final and UConn in the national semifinals helped get the Bulldogs this far.

"Jazz was playing good today," Schaefer said of Holmes, who finished with 6 points in 17 minutes. "Morgan had some struggles early. It's a hard, long grind of a season. We got in so late Friday night [after the semifinals and media interviews]. We've been trying to play catch-up since then."

The Bulldogs and Huskies played Friday's second semifinal, which tipped off at about 10 p.m. Eastern time. The Bulldogs won 66-64 in overtime on William's buzzer-beater, which was one of the biggest shots in NCAA women's tournament history.

It knocked the 11-time NCAA champion Huskies out of the tournament. William played 44 minutes, getting 13 points and 6 assists against UConn. She had played 40 minutes, scoring 41 points with 7 assists, on March 26 when Mississippi State upset Baylor in the Oklahoma City Regional final.

After Friday's game, William had media interviews, and then more of the same Saturday morning in preparation for the championship game. Did William just run out of gas by Sunday? She said fatigue probably was a factor, but not an excuse.

"It's basketball, and you've got to find a way," William said. "I was winded, but I tried to find a way. I tried to dig deep down inside. But it happens.

"I gave everything I've got [against UConn]. I gave it my all. This game, I gave my all the first couple of minutes, but I was tired in the first quarter. My teammates needed me; I'd come to the sideline and they were like, 'Mo, where you at?' I'm like, 'I'm here, I'm trying to find my second wind.'"

South Carolina had junior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore closely guarding William all the time she was on the floor, and William acknowledged that got to her.

"When somebody pressures me like that, I have to find a way to get myself in the game and lead my team," William said. "They had Bianca on me everywhere I went, face-guarding me. It's like they wanted someone else to run the show. I couldn't get anything going, and it's my responsibility."

After William's spectacular game against Baylor, she said she dedicated it to her stepfather, Donnie Rory, who had raised her and worked so hard to help her develop as an athlete. Rory died in March of William's senior year in high school. William's touching story, and her effectiveness despite being just 5-foot-5, had made her the breakout star of this women's tournament.

And that was even before her shot to beat UConn. By Saturday morning, though, she wanted to put that out of her mind and focus only on South Carolina. Not easy when everyone kept asking her about beating the Huskies.

"The semifinal game wasn't the championship game," William said. "I knew I needed to stay levelheaded because I had one more game to play."

Ultimately, she had an amazing run through March, and will return next season for the Bulldogs. But the ending was tough for her.

"I think we just wanted it so bad, we didn't perform like we were supposed to," William said. "It was an unbelievable season, but it would have been even better if we'd won today."