Top-seeded Mississippi State handled its toughest test of the NCAA Tournament thus far with an 89-73 victory over 3-seed UCLA. The Bulldogs made the Final Four last year for the first time in program history and are now repeat participants. They’ll take on the Lexington Region’s top seed, Louisville, in a national semifinal matchup at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Vic Schaefer’s squad jumped out to an early lead but from there the game went back and forth. UCLA would close the gap a little, only to have MSU pull away once again. The Bulldogs took a 42-26 lead into the halftime break, and all indications were they would run away with the game. They even held an 18-point lead at one point in the third quarter.
But UCLA won the third quarter by three points thanks to some hot shooting and heady play from Kennedy Burke and Monique Billings. Jordin Canada got her shot going as well and the Bruins got as close as within six points until getting within five in the final minute but didn’t have enough to make the comeback. Canada, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, led the Bruins with 23 points in her final collegiate game.
MSU had an amazing shooting night, going 8-13 (61.5 %) from behind the arc and 50 percent from the field while also hitting 23-27 (85.2%) free throws. Senior guard Victoria Vivians was the game’s leading scorer, with 24 points to go along with four rebounds while her classmate and partner in the backcourt Morgan William added 17 points and five assists.
The Bulldogs dominated down low, winning the rebounding battle and getting a 23-point, 21-rebound performance from junior center Teaira McCowan. They move on to Columbus where they will take on Louisville in what should be one of the best games of the year.
Both Louisville and Mississippi State have looked unstoppable so far in the tournament and have plenty of reasons to believe in their title hopes. It will be a true battle for the right to play in the national championship.