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MSU women have bigger bull's eye on back as No. 1 seed

 

Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, blue shirt, his coaches, and his players watch the NCAA tournament selection show on the video board inside Humphrey Coliseum on Monday night. MSU earned its first No. 1 seed and will play host to Nicholls at 5 p.m. Saturday in the first round.

Mississippi State women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, blue shirt, his coaches, and his players watch the NCAA tournament selection show on the video board inside Humphrey Coliseum on Monday night. MSU earned its first No. 1 seed and will play host to Nicholls at 5 p.m. Saturday in the first round. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff  Buy this photo.

 

Adam Minichino

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Teaira McCowan is used to shouldering a bull's eye. 

 

At 6-foot-7, McCowan is one of the tallest players in Division I basketball. A season that has featured a single-season record 23 double-doubles has helped the bull's eye on her back grow even bigger. 

 

The junior center didn't need a bigger load to handle, but she received it Monday night from former Georgia women's basketball coach Andy Landers on the NCAA tournament Selection Show. On a night MSU made history by receiving its first No. 1 seed, Landers showed highlights to illustrate McCowan's growth from her freshman season to the 2017-18 campaign to show how she has emerged as one of the nation's most dominant low-post players. 

 

McCowan's maturity is part of the reason MSU (32-1) earned a No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Regional. It will kick off NCAA tournament play at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) when it plays host to No. 16 seed Nicholls (19-13) at Humphrey Coliseum. Tickets for the game are sold out. 

 

"It's a great accomplishment knowing our hard work paid off," McCowan said. 

 

No. 8 seed Syracuse (22-8) will play No. 9 seed Oklahoma State (20-10) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). The winners of both games will play Monday at a time to be announced. The winner of that game will advance to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City. 

 

On Sunday, McCowan  

 

added to her laundry list of awards when she earned first-team All-America honors from ESPNW. Senior Victoria Vivians was named a third-team All-American. 

 

MSU and Connecticut are the only teams with multiple players on the list. 

 

McCowan is averaging a career-best 17.7 points and 13.2 rebounds per game this season. She was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference and SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year. She finished the regular season third nationally in rebounding and set an MSU single-season record with 435 rebounds, which is eighth most in SEC history. McCowan also finished fourth in the SEC with 2.0 blocked shots per game. 

 

McCowan's 23 double-doubles are fourth in the nation. 

 

On Monday, those who didn't know about McCowan's exploits were treated to Landers' breakdown. When asked after the telecast how it felt to be even more of a national television celebrity, McCowan smiled and said, "It's a great feeling, but I can't harp on it too much." 

 

That kind of focus was instrumental in helping MSU go 16-0 in SEC play as part of an undefeated regular season. It was the first time a SEC team accomplished the feat since Tennessee in 1998. South Carolina beat MSU 62-51 on March 4 to win its record fourth-straight SEC tournament title. 

 

McCowan said it won't be difficult to regain that mind-set after missing a chance to win the program's first SEC tournament championship. She said MSU won't look past Nicholls, which beat No. 1 seed Lamar and No. 2 Stephen F. Austin on the way to winning the Southland Conference tournament title, to Syracuse or Oklahoma State and a chance to get back to the Sweet 16. 

 

MSU defeated Oklahoma State 79-76 on Dec. 3 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in Starkville. It beat Syracuse 76-65 on Dec. 21 at the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas. 

 

Nicholls is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. It finished tied for fourth (11-7) in the Southland Conference in the regular season. 

 

McCowan remembers Syracuse and Oklahoma State having strong guard play from the first meetings. If MSU advances, she said the Bulldogs will have to do a better job defensively controlling the pace and tempo on those guards. 

 

Don't worry, though, because McCowan and the Bulldogs have responded to challenges like that all season. McCowan said MSU is ready to do it again and add a little more history to what already has been a season filled with firsts. 

 

"A bull's eye is a bull's eye," McCowan said. "Everybody is aiming for us. We can't slip up and have a fall because it is going to cost us. We have to be ready." 

 

Connecticut (Albany Regional), Louisville (Lexington), and Notre Dame (Spokane) earned the other No. 1 seeds. 

 

South Carolina (Albany), Baylor (Lexington), Oregon (Spokane), and Texas (Kansas City) are the No. 2 seeds. 

 

The Final Four will kick off March 30 in Columbus, Ohio. The national championship game will be Sunday, April 1. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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