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Mississippi St. earns second straight trip to women’s final

Mississippi State takes down Louisville

Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians celebrates with her teammates after defeating Louisville in the semifinals of the women’s NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Mississippi State won 73-63 in overtime. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

By Mitch Stacy

AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Once Roshunda Johnson hit the tying 3-pointer with seven seconds left in regulation and Teaira McCowan forced a miss on the other end, Mississippi State knew it was in good shape.

“We know we’re an overtime team,” All-American guard Victoria Vivians said.

Especially in the Final Four.

McCowan had 21 points and a Final Four-record 25 rebounds, Vivians scored 25 points, and Mississippi State reached the national championship game for the second straight year with a 73-63 OT win over Louisville on Friday night.

After Johnson’s jumper, Louisville’s Myisha Hines-Allen then drove the length of the floor but missed a layup with McCowan defending her.

In overtime, the Bulldogs asserted themselves and Morgan William, who hit the game-winning shot in OT last year in the Final Four to end UConn’s 111-game winning streak, made two free throws in the last minute to help Mississippi State (37-1) pull away.

Louisville (36-3) managed just one basket on 10 shots in the extra period.

McCowan broke the rebounding mark set by Charlotte Smith of North Carolina in 1994 when Mississippi State’s 6-foot-7 center grabbed her 24th board.

“She’s done that all year against the best competition,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “She did it again tonight on the biggest stage.”

The Cardinals were hurt when center Sam Fuehring was called for a technical foul with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter when she slapped the floor after getting called for a foul. That technical fouled her out of the game. The Cardinals were down 54-53 and William hit both free throws to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead.

“It’s a shame it has to come down to that,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “It was a five-point swing. So it impacted the game.”

Louisville came back to take a 59-56 advantage on Hines-Allen’s layup with 11 seconds left, setting up the exciting finish in regulation.

Asia Durr scored 18 for Louisville (36-3), which was making its third appearance in the Final Four. Jazmine Jones added 15 in a game in which the lead changed 15 times.

“It was really tough,” Jones said. “They have great guards up and down their team. Victoria (Vivians), she’s a great player. She was an All-American. It was really tough guarding her. And their 3-point shooters, because they can spread out the floor while driving. So it was really tough tonight.”

BIG PICTURE

LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals won the ACC regular season and conference tournament for the first time in school history. They also earned the first No. 1 seed in program history, but couldn’t get shots to fall in OT or keep McCowan off the boards all night.

“What a great ballgame,” Walz said. “I mean, back and forth runs by both teams. It was a great ballgame. I thought we competed, we played our hearts out. I thought they played their hearts out.”

MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs fell short after their upset of UConn last year, falling to South Carolina in the championship game.

“I just feel like this year we have execute and finish it out,” Vivians said.

RECOGNITION

Schaefer took time out to accept an award a few hours before the women’s Final Four tipped off. Schaefer was honored as the National Coach of the Year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. Schaefer thanked his family, including twins Blair and Charles Logan. Blair is a senior guard for the Bulldogs.

“You know what? She’s had a little bit to do with this today,” Schaefer said.

REBOUND MACHINE

McCowan also set the overall NCAA Tournament record for rebounds with 92, breaking the mark of 75 set by Janel McCarville in 2004.

3s ARE SCARCE

Neither team shot well from beyond the arc. Mississippi State was 4 for 15, and Louisville was just 4 for 20, with Durr getting three of them.

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