Bulldogs run past Illinois in Women’s NCAA First Four

Published 8:59 am Thursday, March 16, 2023

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — South Bend seems nice this time of year. Mississippi State is going to stick around a while longer.

Jessika Carter had 22 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, Anastasia Hayes added 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Mississippi State beat Illinois 70-56 on Wednesday to begin the NCAA Women’s Tournament in a First Four game.

Mississippi State (21-10) advanced to the field of 64 to take on No. 6 seed Creighton Friday at 5 p.m. The Bulldogs improved to 14-3 in the NCAA Tournament since the 2016-17 season.

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“To think just the other day we’re sitting at my house crossing our fingers, looking at each other going, come on, just let us in,” Mississippi State coach Sam Purcell said. “But they just have an attitude right now, an appreciation for the game, a love for the game, which you saw tonight. I’m the luckiest coach in the world. They’re determined for big things and big goals, and our mindset right now is one game at a time.”

Freshman Debreasha Powe scored four points during Mississippi State’s 11-2 run to begin the third quarter for a 42-32 lead. The Bulldogs extended it to 52-38 at the end of the quarter after shooting 53 percent. Kourtney Weber sank a 3-pointer to cap a 9-1 run to begin the fourth quarter for a 61-39 lead.

After Mississippi State’s lead was cut to 12 points with 4:19 left, Carter scored four straight points to reach 20-plus for the sixth time this season.

JerKaila Jordan also scored 11 points for Mississippi State. Weber finished with eight.

“Coach told us we were doing well but just to pick it up on defense. We kept getting caught in ball screens. That was the main focus to just go over the ball screens,” Hayes said. “When we did that and we played defense and our defense turned into offense and we were just playing, we had fun. It was just like AAU out there for a second. So that third quarter was just fun.”

Carter scored 10 points in the first half to help build a 31-30 lead. Makira Cook scored 11 points for Illinois, which shot 48 percent from the field but didn’t attempt a free throw compared to Mississippi State’s 10 of 12.

Cook, averaging 18.2 points per game, scored 21 points and Genesis Bryant added 17 for Illinois (22-10), which had one of the best turnarounds in the country after finishing last season with a record of 7-20. Illinois’ first free throws of the game came with 5:35 left in the third quarter.

The Illini were making their eighth trip to the NCAA Tournament, the first since 2003.

“We couldn’t score in the third (quarter). Eight points, you’re not going to win in an NCAA Tournament, or really any one, if you only score eight points,” Illinois coach Shauna Green said. “Then the rebounding separation was just too much, and there’s multiple possessions where they got two and even sometimes three O-boards, and you just can’t do that.”

• Friday, 5 p.m.
• NCAA Women’s Tournament, first round
• TV: ESPN News
Complete NCAA Women’s Tournament TV schedule