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Postcard from Dallas: An upset and sportsmanship

When I created my brackets before March Madness began, I knew the men’s tournament was really a toss-up. But the women were a different story. I put UConn as champions without a second thought. Then, I picked the other Final Four teams and eventual runner-up with a little more consideration. UConn seemed invincible. The Huskies had over 100-straight wins, four straight championships, and victories by margins that would win games for other teams.

And then Mississippi State decided it was tired of being ignored and showed the world what the Bulldogs were really capable of: the grittiest of overtime wins against a basketball dynasty.

66-64.

Before last night, my favorite TV sports moment was the Cubs’ World Series victory. My favorite moment that I’d seen in-person was Katie Ledecky’s world-record triumph in the 800-freestyle race at the Rio Olympics. And before last night, my favorite sports moment this month was the thrilling NCAA men’s mile race in which four swimmers finished under the American record time.

But after last night, I have just one favorite moment: The one in which a 5’5” point guard, Morgan William, hit a buzzer-beater shot to move past the storied UConn program and into the championship game.

Aside from that shot, the reactions from the head coaches were similarly striking, though they obviously experienced wildly different emotions.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma is perceived by some as being unpredictable in press conferences. With over two years since his last loss, as media we were not sure how he would react. It turns out, Auriemma is as gracious in defeat as he is in victory. As Morgan William’s shot went through the net and handed UConn a devastating loss, Auriemma just smiled. He gave the Bulldogs all the credit for the win. He reminded his team that losing was a part of life and it was good that his players were finally learning how to cope.

“They’ve sent a lot of kids to the locker room over the years feeling the way they’re feeling right now,” Auriemma said. “Now they’re part of what a normal college experience is. I reminded them that it’s not normal, what we’ve been doing…What they’re experiencing now, that’s real life. What we do going forward will probably be more important than anything that they did this year.”

As I get ready to graduate with my classmates in a few months, we’ll face that real world as well, including job rejections and uncertainty. Auriemma gave a good reminder to be appreciative for life experiences, and to learn from each opportunity, positive or not. I’ll forever be grateful to have covered the Women’s Final Four two years running for the NCAA and IUPUI’s Sports Capital Journalism Program.

–Rebecca Harris, @MsRebeccaHarris

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