Steve Robertson - Genespage.com

Mississippi State knocks off Washington to keep their historic season alive.

Oklahoma City, OK - On Friday evening, the Mississippi State Lady Bulldogs took to the Sweet Sixteen floor for just the third time in program history. The Washington Lady Huskies were looking to advance to the Final Four for the second time in as many years, while Coach Vic Schafer's team set their goal on being the first Elite Eight Lady Dogs ever

The Bulldogs started the contest with essentially the same line-up they did in NCAA Tournament rounds one and two, both Mississippi State wins. The three guard line-up featured Morgan William at the point, with Blair Schaefer and Roshunda Johnson playing the wings. Senior Ketara Chapel drew the starting nod at forward, while Tearia McCowan handled the opening tip as the team's center.

Washington would find the range early connecting on four baskets from beyond the arc, with All-American Kelsey Plum doing half of the damage. With 6:00 to go int he first period, Washington held a 12-5 lead.

Victoria Vivians would make her first appearance with just under four minutes remaining in the opening period. Her first shot drew only iron, but the Bulldogs seemed to have a little more juice on the floor on both ends of the court.

"I think we just finally decided we're going to lock down on defense. I think it was all about playing together," Mississippi State senior Dominique Dillingham said.  "It's not about one person locking down one person, it's about the team locking down them. I think when we decided that we were going to guard together, not let them have any easy looks, I think that's when it really started to click.

"I think their first four looks were threes, made threes. For the rest of the game, I think they only made four."

The Huskies would hold a seven point advantage after one, with score 20-13 in favor of the Pac-12 representatives, but the open looks of the first quarter would soon be in short supply.

The second period began with a Plum air ball and a Chapel basket that cut the Husky lead to five. A stronger effort on the defensive end led to some Bulldog momentum and at the media timeout, the Bulldogs were even with the Huskies at 24. 

At the 4:26 mark, Schaefer would connect from three giving the Bulldogs the lead at 27-24. The final minutes of the first half belonged to the Bulldogs. Washington center Chantel Osahor became absent on glass and McCowan began to rule paint. With the Huskies one and done just about every possession, State would take advantage and hit the half time break with a 38-29 lead.

At the intermission, seven Bulldogs had scored. On the other side of the ledger, Osahor lead all scorers with 13, Plum totaled 10 and Aaarion McDonald's six were the only other points contributed outside of the Huskies big two. 

Washington would start the second half with a clear game plan of getting Plum the basketball. State would aid the Husky effort with some empty trips of their own. The Huskies would take the lead at 47-46 and then add to it with a three in transition to move ahead 50-46.

After three quarters, Washington would hold a two point lead at 50-48. Eleven points from McCowan to open the fourth would erase that margin and give the Bulldogs a five point lead at 59-52. Washington would need a timeout at 7:27 as the game and momentum looked to be slipping away.

Down the stretch, McCowan would take over the simply put the game away. Behind a team high 26 points from the sophomore center, the Bulldogs would seal the deal at 75-64.

"Well, during media, they told me, they said, T, you got to dominate," McCowan shared.  "Just taking that in, listening to my teammates, knowing I had to step up, take my team, like, further, that's when I had the look in my eye like, Nobody can stop you. You have to do what your teammates are asking you to do."

Washington center Osahor would agree that McCowan's influence down the stretch was the deciding factor in the ball game.

 "I didn't do a very good job today. Something I take pride in, she was the difference maker, McCowan was," Osahor said. "She had 26-12. She had some big baskets at the end. That was my fault.
I just didn't box her out hard enough. But credit to her, she had a good game."

With the victory in hand, the State coaching staff could take a moment or two to take inventory of what had transpired. The Bulldog defense that started so out of sorts in the early going, turned the tide on the talented Huskies.

"You know, you hold that team to 64 points, you're playing your guts out. It ain't like we're standing around playing hope you miss your defense," Schaefer said. "I couldn't be prouder of our kids for their energy, their effort. We talk about being connected, having chemistry on that end. That's the piece that doesn't come early in a season. Your defensive cohesiveness and your chemistry, it's not the first thing, it's the last thing.

"This group is really doing a good job right now. Again, I'm so, so proud of 'em."

The Bulldogs will take on the winner of Baylor and Louisville in the regional final on Sunday. With a win on Sunday, Mississippi State would advance to next weekends' Final Four event that will determine the 2017 National Champion.



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