DALLAS -- A week ago, Morgan William was just a college kid who played basketball for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, unknown in most of the country. Never mind that her listed 5-foot-5 height is more aspirational than real (her coach, Vic Schaefer, flagged this from the podium earlier this week in Dallas, urging that she be re-measured).
The point guard teammates call "Itty Bitty" has turned herself into a folk hero. First, on national television last Sunday against a Baylor team many thought strong enough to defeat mighty Connecticut, William scored 41 points, dished out seven assists and didn't turn the ball over once, a virtuoso performance to earn Mississippi State a 94-85 overtime win and its first Final Four appearance in program history.
But that was only the second-most unforgettable moment of William's season.
On Friday night, William took the ball into her hands in the final seconds of overtime against UConn (undefeated over a 111-game stretch), sank a quick-release jumper over Gabby Williams, and completed the greatest upset in the history of the sport: a 66-64 win over the Huskies team no one beyond the walls of the Mississippi State locker room thought would lose that night.
But on the eve of the NCAAW championship game (ESPN, 6 p.m. ET on Sunday), William was dreaming not of parades, but of returning to Mississippi to go bowl with her brother and sisters, where she uses an eight-pound ball and usually scores about a 150.
"I'm even with my brother," she said. "I win sometimes."
Yes, for William, some relaxation time and some sleep -- she spoke enthusiastically about dreamland, even as she's in the midst of living one -- are high on the priority list.
So is winning it all.
The success of William with the Bulldogs came as no surprise to coach Schaefer, though it is fair to wonder whether she could have thrived in another program without the emotional support he and her teammates provided in the wake of losing her father three years ago.
William had been undeniably successful in Alabama, winning state player of the year honors her senior season at Shades Valley High School in Birmingham, but her slight stature led many to wonder whether she'd get her shot off against bigger, stronger opponents at the high-Division 1 college level. An Auburn fan, William had been in touch with coaches from both the Tigers and their rivals in Tuscaloosa, but no offers came.
ESPN ranked William the 25th-best point guard in her class. Schaefer saw something else.
"Yeah, you know, I've tried all my career not to get too caught up in numbers on kids," Schaefer said. "That's somebody's opinion. Now, Morgan was a pretty good player in high school. When we watched her play, boy, she covered ground. They played a zone press. She would cover from one sideline to the other. Even at her size, she's long. Quick, foot speed quick, athleticism. There was no doubt in my mind."
Schaefer and the Bulldogs are here because he's been right, repeatedly, on kids who other teams passed on. There's not a single McDonald's All-American on the roster good enough to topple Baylor and Connecticut within a week.
But beyond talent and system -- the latter of which has evolved from a defense-heavy 2015-16 season to an offense that ranks 19th in the country in points per possession this season -- the max effort he gets out of William and the rest of his team is unquestionable.
For William, that loyalty can be traced back to the summer entering Mississippi State. When her father -- the primary basketball force and coach for her entire life, who never stopped telling her she could be that WNBA player she hoped someday -- died in March 2014 from a heart attack at the age of 44, she became a fixture at the Schaefer house, rooming with Vic's daughter and current Bulldog three-point extraordinare Blair.
So that remarkable moment the country witnessed, with William heaving sobs and Schaefer's arm around her in a postgame interview after Mississippi State beat Baylor last week -- well, it was years in the making.
"Well, I was very close with my parents both, and I buried both of them," Schaefer recalled earlier this week. "I still remember where I was standing the day I got the phone call that Donnie had passed. I don't wish that on any young person. It's hard enough when you're an adult. She's Blair's roommate. She's at my house more than any other player for dinner or whatever. So she's someone that I know, because of what she's been through, I try to provide that stability whenever is necessary, because she is away from home. I love all my kids. But there's always a special place in my heart for any young person who has had to go through dealing with losing a parent. I mean, it's terrible. The kid's handling it like a champ. Her mom, Monica, is such a strong, strong Christian woman. So there is that unique and special bond, you know, that we have."
The effort never flagged, but the numbers have increased exponentially this season, with William's points per possession, per Synergy, jumping from 0.728 last year to 0.943 this year, middling to elite. Then again, she played through 2015-16 with a broken tibia.
"If you look back at the film, she wore a protective covering on it all year," Schaefer said. "We rested her. We didn't practice her at times all week, things like that. She'd play in games. Kid's just tougher than nails. I've had other kids that have had that. We tried then to see at the end of the year if it would heal, but it wouldn't. She had a rod put down, like you normally do. It's a common injury. It's one that doesn't tend to heal [without rest]. But obviously now she's back to feeling good and 100%."
William spent the summer allowing her body to return to normal, then hit the weight room, seeing the number 60 written in magic marker on two windows as she worked out all throughout the fall, representing the 98-38 loss to Connecticut last March.
"Man, I hate that number," she said, but with a smile on Saturday, now that she's avenged it.
William is producing at a level that forces the world to take her WNBA dreams seriously, with Schaefer comparing her to 11-year league veteran Temeka Johnson, who stood just 5-foot-3. You make shots over Gabby Williams, 5-foot-11 with the best leaping ability in college basketball, and questions about getting your shot off have a tendency to disappear.
So Morgan William has some plans when she gets home. She's going bowling. She's heading right for that weight room to wipe off that magic marker, as surely as she's replaced the image of Mississippi State in the nation's consciousness of a particularly grim victim of the Huskies with their vanquisher.
And she's even willing to put off that long-overdue catching up on sleep, if it means there's a parade to attend.
"Yeah, gotta make sacrifices for the game," William, who knows a thing or two about the subject, said with a big smile on Saturday. "For the people."