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What N.C.A.A. Women’s Finalists Share: Big Shots That Felled a Giant

“I believe it gave hope to teams that they can beat UConn as well,” William said on Saturday. “Over the years, people have been complaining that UConn’s too good, they just dominate everyone. I feel like there’s programs out there that can get the job done.”

By Saturday morning, William had not yet contacted Ogunbowale, but she said she would probably tell her before Sunday’s tip-off: “You’re an all-American. You’re supposed to do that. I’m proud of you.”

Photo

Ogunbowale celebrated after hitting her 3-pointer on Friday night. William said she hoped to tell Ogunbowale: “You’re supposed to do that. I’m proud of you.” Credit Andy Lyons/Getty Images

But William drew a distinction between her shot and Ogunbowale’s. Her own shot had stopped UConn’s record winning streak, providing both an epic upset and cathartic redemption after the Bulldogs had lost by 60 points to the Huskies in the 2016 N.C.A.A. tournament.

Both shots were great, William said, but she added, “For us to hit that shot and beat them, I just won’t compare it.”

In retrospect, perhaps it was inevitable that William effectively ran out of gas in the 2017 championship game.

She had scored 41 points to help defeat Baylor in overtime in the final of the Oklahoma City Regional. The 66-64 victory over UConn also extended into extra time. William did not get to bed after the game until 4 a.m., when the celebration and interviews and adrenaline finally ebbed. Then she was up early the next morning for more interviews, practice and an autograph session.

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From left, Notre Dame’s Jackie Young, Kristina Nelson and Mychal Johnson looked at social media in the locker room after defeating Connecticut in overtime on Friday night. Credit Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune, via Associated Press

“Beating UConn takes so much out of you,” said Kara Lawson, an ESPN commentator who played in three Final Fours at Tennessee. “I don’t think they had any juice left. Think about it. You hit that huge shot, your Twitter is blowing up, your Instagram, your phone. You’re not in bed till late. The next day, you’re playing for the national championship. I think that all hit her.”

The day after the championship game, William went to the gym at Mississippi State and practiced her shooting. “My safe haven,” she called it. She did not complain about being benched and has not complained this season about sharing more playing time with her fellow point guard Jazzmun Holmes. Coach Vic Schaefer does not owe her an explanation, she said.

He has said repeatedly that he will play the point guard with the most energy and the hottest hand.

“I don’t really know a player in college basketball who’s been complaining to the coaches,” William said. “Let me know if you find one and see if they’re on the team next week.”

Those who have known her the longest say that she has always been this way, stoic, even-keeled. She has spent her career disproving those who said she was too short. She has had to overcome the loss of her stepfather, who put a basketball in her hands when she was 3 years old and died of a heart attack when she was a senior in high school.

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From left, Jazzmun Holmes (No. 10), William (No. 2) and Victoria Vivians (No. 35) celebrated with their teammates after defeating Louisville on Friday at the Women’s Final Four. Credit Andy Lyons/Getty Images

“She’s just a positive kid,” said Andy Landers, a former coach at Georgia whose summer camp William attended. He joked, “She thinks the glass is half full because her height won’t let her see the other half.”

This season, William’s scoring is less urgent. It is her job to facilitate the dominance of the 6-7 center Teaira McCowan (21 points, 25 rebounds in Friday’s semifinal win over Louisville) and the perimeter shooting of forward Victoria Vivians (25 points in the semifinals).

But Dionnah Jackson-Durrett, an assistant coach at Mississippi State, has implored William to be ready to take over when others languish. In the fourth quarter on Friday, William blocked a layup attempt by a Louisville player who is a foot taller. Then she assisted on a 3-point shot that forced overtime.

With 46 seconds remaining in the extra period and Mississippi State holding a 1-point lead, William hit two free throws. Then, with her back to the basket, she intercepted a long pass. That essentially put the game beyond reach for Louisville, which finally succumbed, 73-63.

“She is a tough, competitive cuss,” Schaefer said.

Asked if she would prefer to hit another game-winning shot on Sunday, William smiled and said, no, she would prefer a comfortable lead.

“It’s nice to hit a buzzer beater,” she said, “but no one wants it to come down to that.”

Continue reading the main story

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As Pope Francis Changes the Church

To the Editor:

This Easter, I’ll Be Back in Church,” by Margaret Renkl (Op-Ed, March 26), reflects my sentiments exactly.

Although I haven’t stopped going to church, I have grown distant from the friends I had there. I can’t accept how my fellow Catholics can support a president and legislators who pass laws that hurt the poor and the needy. To care for them is at the core of our faith.

It broke my heart to see these people and others who desperately need health care demonstrating in the capital last year against repeal of the Affordable Care Act and some legislators voting for repeal anyway.

The silence of the bishops on so many of these destructive actions also leaves me feeling that no one in the church (except for the pope) is speaking with any moral authority.

MARJORIE IVES, JUPITER, FLA.

To the Editor:

Re “Francis, the Anti-Strongman,” by Paul Elie (Sunday Review, March 25):

Pope Francis’s persona belies a dictatorial penchant. He deals with challenges by removing those who disagree with him. The peremptory dismissal of members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for no apparent reason, is a case in point.

His rigging of the Synod on the Family and dubious editing of its summation in “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) — an incomplete citation from John Paul II — is nothing short of dictatorial. And his circumventing of canonical process to initiate change — for example, changing the rite of foot washing on Holy Thursday, from a recognition of the uninterrupted transmission of spiritual authority from the apostles to succeeding generations of bishops, to an open-to-all act of charity — certainly seems autocratic.

MICHAEL P. ORSI, NAPLES, FLA.

The writer is a Catholic priest.

To the Editor:

Re “The Good Pope and His Critics” (column, March 18):

Ross Douthat blames Pope Francis for worsening the divisions in the church by glossing over the differences and allowing for more robust debate in local churches. Francis’s approach is not a truce.

Rather, he trusts that local churches are better suited to allow for the internal forum or conscience to help people live the faith in a realistic way. It seems that Mr. Douthat would rather that some abstract dogmas continue to drive Catholics away. Francis holds the center and reaches out to those disenfranchised as Jesus did as an itinerant preacher.

As the vicar of Christ, Francis allows for Catholics to be universal while at the same time particular in their cultural expressions of faith. Francis trusts that any coming changes in the church will arise out of people’s embrace of the faith. He is more hopeful than Mr. Douthat.

ALEXANDER M. SANTORA
HOBOKEN, N.J.

The writer, a priest, is dean of the Roman Catholic churches in Hoboken and Weehawken, N.J.

To the Editor:

The most notable omission in Ross Douthat’s legalistic scolding of Pope Francis was any recognition that Jesus intended to found a loving community of believers whose members would follow the teachings and philosophy of a poor, humble carpenter from Nazareth.

MARIE GOTTFRIED
LAKE WORTH, FLA.

To the Editor:

As a progressive Catholic feminist, I rarely agree with Ross Douthat, but his column about Pope Francis was the exception.

Francis deserves credit for elevating the importance of caring for the poor and protecting the planet. Nevertheless, I call him “the pope of hints” because of his ambivalent suggestions on several doctrinal and policy controversies in Catholicism.

More troubling, he’s allowed his loyalty to colleagues to blind him to credible accusations of child abuse against clergymen.

Unlike Mr. Douthat, I believe that the church can — and must — view Gospel teachings on sexuality and marriage through a new lens. Over the millenniums, the church has changed its mind many times. Francis could send a clear signal endorsing this re-examination, asking feminist theologians to lead the discussion.

Instead, the pope’s rare clarity has been misguided. He has refused to consider any possibility of women’s ordination to the priesthood, consigning us to second-class status, thus ensuring the status quo.

CELIA VIGGO WEXLER
ALEXANDRIA, VA.

The writer is the author of “Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope.”

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat gets many things right about Pope Francis and the problems of the Catholic Church. The pope has raised fundamental questions, the implications of which he is unwilling or unable to pursue.

He has concentrated on changing practices, symbols and gestures, the right place to start on some needed reform. But Heaven help the next pope as some of these implications become clearer.

The doctrines of the church are its teachings. The pope has tried to change pastoral practices, like communion for divorced Catholics, while not changing doctrines. But the change of practice is itself a change in teaching, and it implies other and deeper changes.

Conservatives are right on that point. But changes are needed not only in the church’s teachings but also in the basis of its teachings. The church is still using a language of “revealed truths” developed in the 16th century.

Until there is a discussion of the basis of church teachings, there will continue to be a split between defenders of the revealed truths that Jesus supposedly left behind and Catholics who are doing their best to understand where the official church teaching is in need of correction.

GABRIEL MORAN, NEW YORK

The writer is the author of “Missed Opportunities: Rethinking Catholic Tradition.”

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat’s critical column about Pope Francis is gentle, rather than rough, careful not to attack such a popular man. Nevertheless, he notes that the heavy, difficult teachings of the church are slightly eased.

The words “Who am I to judge?” were heard around the world. The terrible Zika virus led the pope to tell women in affected regions that contraceptives are acceptable.

He traveled to Sweden in 2016 for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, attend an ecumenical service in Lund Cathedral, and say that Martin Luther was not wrong about everything, but a reformer in his own right.

His amazing vision of the world facing climate change is prophetic. It is already here, and his message would save us if we followed his advice.

Survival is about caring for the other, whether a refugee or a family member. We must seek a community of solidarity and love.

VIRGINIA EDMAN, TORONTO

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat’s column is shockingly silent about Pope Francis’s repressive position, consistent with the longstanding church position, barring women from the clergy to become leaders in the Catholic Church.

Many of the church’s doctrines affect women disproportionately, from those governing abortion to infertility treatment to divorce.

If Catholicism is to survive as a viable and vibrant religion in the 21st century, the pope must address the shameful discrimination against 50 percent of the world’s population that affects issues central to their lives.

ROBIN FLEISCHNER, NEW YORK

The writer is a lawyer specializing in adoption and assisted reproduction.

To the Editor:

While the perspective of a political pundit may have some weight in evaluating the effect of the teaching and actions of Pope Francis, I come at it from the perspective of pastoral service, at the parish and diocesan level.

As a result, I lean more toward an analysis by theologians and historians. Some of them are suggesting that the discomfort Francis is causing in the church and in the world is his unrelenting emphasis on a “poor Church for the poor.”

It is admittedly disruptive, but it does seem to echo the life and teaching of Jesus.

JOHN ROWAN
CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y.

The writer is a retired pastor in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

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