111 games. That was the winning streak of the UCONN Women's Basketball Team. On March 31, 2017, the women's basketball game forever changed, for the better.
Just one year ago, Mississippi State women were crushed by UCONN women in the NCAA Sweet 16, losing by 60 points. Losing by 60 points in any game is embarrassing, but losing by 60 points in the NCAA Sweet 16? Pure humiliation.
When was the last time you suffered such humiliation and embarrassment? Your response?
For the Mississippi State women and the coaching staff, their response could have been one of such shame that they simply gave up the idea that would be a Final Four or Final Two contender, ever. They could have simply resorted to the notion that they weren't meant for true greatness and instead should be happy with the level to which they did rise. This response wouldn't have been all that surprising or out of the norm. But fortunately for women's basketball and all the little girls who watched on March 31, 2017, that's not how this story ends.
The coaches and women of Mississippi State used that devastating defeat last year as fuel for this year. The number 60 could be found in the weight room, a reminder of the reason to add just a little more or complete just one more rep. The prize for their hard work during the season, a Final Four date with the same team that demoralized them just a year earlier, UCONN. Not many outside of their fan base believed the result would be any different. UCONN was still on their streak, 111 games. This is why we love sports. It doesn't matter what other's think. Not the analysts, not the fans, not the opponents, nothing anyone outside the team says matters. It only matters what those competing, those in the arena giving everything they have, it only matters what they think and believe.
On March 31, 2017, the Mississippi State Bulldogs did the unthinkable (to those not part of the team), they beat the UCONN Huskies in OT, at the buzzer. They didn't have to beat them 4 or 5 times for the game to forever change, they only had to beat them once. We know this because history has shown us many times. The 4 minute mile is one example.
In the 40's it was thought that no one could break the 4 min mile. Thousands were thought to have tried and failed. Runners began to think that maybe the experts were right, the human body wasn't made to run that fast for that long. And then on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the barrier, running the mile in 3:59.4. Bannister used visualization to create and condition himself to believe that he had already accomplished this never done before feat.
Roughly a year later, other runners started breaking the 4 minute mile and today a 4 minute mile is routine for elite runners. It's still an accomplishment, but it's not impossible with the right training and mindset. But before Roger actually completed it, until he physically broke the time of 4 minutes, many had trained, failed and were losing confidence that it could be done. Once he broke it, running changed forever.
Make no mistake, the UCONN women's teams were very, very good over the 111 win streak. The coaching staff is one of the best in all of basketball, ever. They outworked, outplayed, outcoached and had more confidence than their opponents in most of those 111 wins. But what Mississippi State women did by winning was to give all current and future women's players the hope and knowledge that, with the right mindset and work ethic, any team can win on any given night.
If you're a sports fan, of course we know that on any given night any team can win, it's why we play the game. But saying it and players truly believing it in their hearts and thoughts are not the same. Our assumptions and limiting beliefs hold us back more than any outside force. With research showing we have anywhere from 20K - 70K thoughts a day, 80% of which they estimate are negative in nature, it takes great effort and intention to maintain belief and consistently perform daily, the actions necessary to accomplish challenging feats.
Mississippi State didn't win on March 31, 2017, they won most days between their 60 point loss and the game on March 31, 2017, and that made the difference.