COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Mississippi State wants to write some more history in the women's college basketball world.
For now at least, the Bulldogs are best remembered as the team that ended UConn's 111-game winning streak in last year's national semifinal, knocking off the mighty Huskies in overtime on a buzzer-beater by guard Morgan William. It was the shot heard around world, overshadowing Mississippi State's loss in the final to South Carolina.
With virtually the same guard-strong lineup as last year, the Bulldogs are back in the Final Four seeking more. So of course are the ubiquitous Huskies, although the teams won't meet again unless both are victorious in their national semifinal games on Friday.
Mississippi State (36-1) first has to be get by Louisville (36-2) in the first game on Friday night. The winner plays the UConn-Notre Dame winner in the national championship game on Sunday. All four teams are No. 1 seeds.
"Last year's experience was great," said William, who became a celebrity thanks to her beast-slaying shot. "UConn, of course, and just to get back here, it's a blessing. It's hard to get back here two times in a row. So I'm glad we came back and made it back. We worked hard for this."
Coach Vic Schaefer said the Bulldogs are tempered by the fight in last year's tournament and a long, rigorous season that saw them to go 32-0 until losing to South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
"They've weathered every storm that's come their way, worn a bulls-eye on their back from what they accomplished a year ago," Schaefer said. "That's extremely difficult to do. I've marveled at and been amazed at this group, this team, but when you really step back and look at the kids, these seniors in particular, you understand how we've gotten it done."
Louisville has put together a monster season of its own. The Cardinals won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time in school history. They haven't lost since a 69-58 setback at No. 1 UConn back on Feb. 12 and made it to the Final Four for the third time in 11 years under coach Jeff Walz.
"It's been the same thing that we've been doing from day one, from the first game," Louisville star guard Asia Durr said. "So, yeah, it's the Final Four. We truly appreciate it. But I mean, if you just think about it, it's just another game. That's what we're all trying to think about. We're just trying to have fun. We're all in, but this is just another game for us."
Associated Press All-Americans will battle in the opening game Friday night. Durr and Mississippi's State's Victoria Vivians, both seniors, want to finish their careers celebrating a national championship.
Durr averages 18.7 points per game and makes nearly 47 percent of her shots. Vivians averages 19.6 points and shoots at a 49 percent clip. Both are devastating in the transition game and can score from anywhere on the floor.
SLOWING DOWN MCCOWAN
The most monumental test for Louisville may be Mississippi State's 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, who has been terrific in the NCAA Tournament. She's averaging 18.1 points but had more than 20 in the last three tournament games.
Louisville forward Myisha Hines-Allen said she's not intimidated.
"We've played different post players already that have been taller than us, but it's your competitiveness," she said. "If you want to fight, if you want to just complain and say, oh, she's taller than me. I can't get around her. I can't box her out. I can't play defense on her. Then you shouldn't be here."
Schaefer said watching Louisville play reminds him of his own team.Comment on this story
"They're extremely multi-dimensional, multi-talented, can do a lot of things to hurt you," the Mississippi State coach said. "Offensively and defensively, they're a mirror image. When I look at them, you know, both our teams are very, very similar. They're tough, they're physical, aggressive."
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