DALLAS -- South Carolina captured its first national championship Sunday, beating Mississippi State 67-55 in an all-SEC title game at American Airlines Center.
The Gamecocks' Dawn Staley became the first women's Final Four Most Outstanding Player to also win a national championship as a head coach.
A look at how the game played out.
How the game was won: South Carolina won its first title on the strength of its defense in the first half and on the shoulders of A'ja Wilson in the second. The defensive strategy to pressure the Mississippi State point guards and disrupt the start of the Bulldogs' offense worked brilliantly, and despite two small spurts in the second half, Mississippi State never solved it. It was such a problem that Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer benched tournament hero and point guard Morgan William for the entire fourth quarter.
Wilson was the best player on the court in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. She finished with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Wilson was one of the few players in this game who didn't have a moment of panic. Her calmness got her team through the game's toughest moments.
Player of the game: A'ja Wilson. The junior center led all scorers, but it was the importance of those points in the second half that made the difference. Twice Mississippi State closed to within four points, and both times, a short jumper in the lane by a calm Wilson stopped the Bulldogs' momentum. The second of those baskets made it 56-50 with 5 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game and came immediately after she blocked an attempt by Jazzmun Holmes at the other end. Wilson led a similar sequence later in the fourth that put the game away, blocking another shot and scoring six straight South Carolina points. She completely took over the game in the fourth quarter with 7 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Player of the game II: Allisha Gray. She carried the key run in the first half that gave South Carolina the lead it never lost. She had six of the Gamecocks' eight points in a stretch in which they went from trailing 12-8 to leading 18-14 at the end of the first quarter. She also scored consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter to help the Gamecocks maintain an eight-point lead with just under five minutes left. She was the game's second-leading scorer, with 18 points, and equaled Wilson with 10 rebounds.
Turning point: The Gamecocks made this their game with a 7-0 run that began in the first quarter and finished early in the second. That seemed to take the steam out of a Mississippi State team that looked a little tired and one step behind much of the night.
Turning point II: Mississippi State cut the lead to 54-50 with 6:52 left. Bianca Cuevas-Moore turned over the ball for South Carolina and Mississippi State had all the momentum for the first time. Holmes broke free in the lane, but was met by Wilson, who blocked the shot, kept it from going out of bounds and then scored on a short step-back jumper to stop the Bulldogs' run. They never got closer.
Stat of the game: South Carolina dominated inside all night, outscoring Mississippi State 42-20 in the paint. The Gamecocks also held a 40-27 advantage on the boards.
Stat of the game II: South Carolina won the championship game without making a 3-point shot, and took only three attempts the entire night.
Stat of the game III: Wilson, Gray and Davis combined to score all but 16 of South Carolina's points.
X factor: Wilson and Gray led the way, but Kaela Davis was key in the third quarter. She became the centerpiece of Dawn Staley's offensive strategy, dribbling off ball screen after ball screen. It kept Mississippi State's defense on its heels and began to open up space for Wilson to operate. Davis scored five of her 10 points in the period.