Morgan William is back in the Final Four, where she became an instant legend only to be denied the storybook ending.

A year ago, the player known as “Itty Bitty” slayed the giant that is the Connecticut women’s basketball team in the national semifinals. The Mississippi State point guard’s buzzer-beating jump shot in overtime ended the Huskies’ NCAA-record 111-game winning streak.

But when William struggled in the championship game loss to South Carolina, Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer replaced her with Jazzmun Holmes. That defeat has driven William and Mississippi State all season, and now they are back in the semifinals. The Bulldogs play Louisville in the first semifinal Friday night.

“I’m extremely excited,” William said. “We made it to the Final Four once. You never know if you’ll get another opportunity, so to make it back my senior year, my last go-round, it’s amazing.”

It was a whirlwind for William last year. One day, she was anonymous to most casual fans. Then came her shot, arguably the most famous in women’s basketball history.

“People remember me for the shot and the impact it brought for women’s basketball around the world,” William said. “I’m grateful for that and want (the sport) to keep growing.”

That the smallest player on the court made the biggest shot — she’s listed at 5 feet 5 but said she’s really 5-3 — added to the legend. But then came the disappointment of the championship game.

Schaefer remains disappointed with the aftermath of that. He said it wasn’t unusual last year for him to play Holmes as much or more than William, and that the criticism of her — and him — was unwarranted.

“I’m a big guy; I can take it,” he said. “But to write some of the things that were written about her — really unfair.”

William didn’t second-guess her coach after the game, saying that it was his right to play the players he wanted and that she was not owed an explanation.

“No player could have said what Morgan said better,” MSU assistant coach Dionnah Jackson-Durrett said.

But Jackson-Durrett added that the day after Mississippi State arrived home, William was back in the gym working on her shot.

“Morgan William is a competitor,” Schaefer said. “She is a tough, competitive cuss. She is the ultimate point guard.”

William’s role has changed this season. A year ago, she was counted on to be a scorer. She had 41 points in a regional final upset of Baylor in overtime.

This season, Mississippi State has a plethora of scoring options. William’s job is to be more of a distributor. She is averaging a career-low 8.2 points and her shooting has been inconsistent. But she has excelled as a facilitator. She has 170 assists and only 42 turnovers.

As the NCAA Tournament has progressed, William’s scoring has picked up. She has averaged 15.6 points the past three games.

Now she’s back in the Final Four, where she made history but wants the ultimate prize.

“I’ve thought about it, of course, because it won us a game in the Final Four,” William said. “But it’s a new year and hopefully it won’t come down to us making a bucket (at the end). Hopefully, we just win the game and the buzzer goes off.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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