Bulldogs get back to Elite Eight

Published 11:44 pm Friday, March 23, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — North Carolina State tried to push Teaira McCowan off the block, then tried double-teaming the Mississippi State star, before ultimately trying to deny her the ball altogether.

None of it worked.

McCowan still scored 24 points on perfect shooting, pulled down 15 rebounds and generally made life miserable for the Wolfpack, and helped the top-seeded Bulldogs breeze to a 71-57 win Friday night and a spot in the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA Tournament.

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“You don’t see 6-foot-7 every day,” North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said. “When they’re just lobbing it up to her, there’s not a whole lot you can do at times. You feel pretty helpless.”

McCowan didn’t do it alone, though.

Victoria Vivians added 14 points, Morgan William had 13 and Roshunda Johnson finished with 12, helping the Bulldogs (35-1) break their school record for wins in a season.

They’ll have a chance to add to it Sunday, when they face second-seeded UCLA for a spot in the Final Four.

UCLA beat Texas 84-75 later Friday night.

“This time of year, you lose, you go home,” said McCowan, who finished 11-of-11 from the field and made both of her foul shots. “You basically start over. So my team, my seniors — the four I got — I’m just trying to make it the best it can be, go as far as possible.”

Kiara Leslie had 27 points to pace the No. 4 seed Wolfpack (26-9), who led early in the second quarter before coming undone. Foul trouble set in, Mississippi State clamped down defensively, and Moore was hit with a technical foul as the Bulldogs pulled away.

“Great team,” Moore said, “but I couldn’t be prouder of my group. Great resiliency all year.”

The Bulldogs, who lost to South Carolina in last year’s NCAA championship game, looked as though they would cruise to the doorstep of another Final Four when they roared to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter.

North Carolina State leaned on its defense, and one of the best rebounding margins in the nation, to claw back. Leslie’s 3 early in the second quarter gave the Wolfpack a 20-19 advantage.

Mississippi State responded with another run, fueled almost entirely by its 6-foot-7 star. McCowan easily grabbed rebounds over the smaller Wolfpack, scored a series of layups and wound up with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting in the first half, as the Bulldogs took a 41-36 lead into the break.

Mississippi State still led 49-37 midway through the third quarter when the Wolfpack’s Akela Maize, who had tangled with McCowan all game, picked up her fourth foul.

The Wolfpack were just 9-of-27 shooting in the second half.

McCowan added to her school record for rebounds in a season. She now has 481.

“Definitely, you never really know how strong a player is at 6-7 ‘til you go against them,” Maize said. “I think that was the biggest surprise I had coming into the game. She’s really strong.”

Moore came unglued and was slapped with a technical foul, then continued his diatribe as the officials mostly ignored him. William made two foul shots and Johnson a layup for the four-point trip down floor, and the Bulldogs eventually pushed their lead to 20 points.

They coasted the rest of the way to the Elite Eight.

North Carolina State still has not reached an Elite Eight since 1998, when it advanced to the Final Four.

“This team and these kids continue to set records at Mississippi State. Just proud of them,” Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said. “Hat’s off to N.C. State. Wes has done a tremendous job with that program. That team had our attention. They certainly had mine.”