OKLAHOMA CITY — Teaira McCowan had her choice.
When you record multiple career highs in one game, you’re bound to face a tough decision, so you’ll have to excuse the 6-foot-7 center if she changed her mind.
But after going for a career-best 26 points and six blocked shots, scoring 16-straight points, and getting an endless supply of high-fives in the fourth quarter, McCowan was asked to rank her achievements.
“I think the blocks would come first, then the points, then the high-fives,” McCowan said after the second-seeded Mississippi State women’s basketball team’s 75-64 victory against third-seeded Washington on Friday in the Sweet 16 of the Oklahoma City Regional. “No, the high fives would come first, knowing my teammates are proud of me, then the blocks, then the points.”
As much as McCowan’s statistical accomplishments reflected her growth, her answer epitomized how much the sophomore has matured . She will get another chance to showcase her development for a national television audience at 6:30 tonight (ESPN) when MSU takes on top-seeded Baylor (33-3) for a spot in the Final Four.
McCowan already has helped MSU (32-4) make history with a first trip to the Elite Eight, so she doesn’t intend to stop.
“We’re just earning the respect we should get,” McCowan said.
Trailing 50-48 to start the fourth quarter, MSU went to McCowan for a jump-start. McCowan off a screen from Blair Schaefer and scored off a pass from Morgan William. She converted the three-point play to give MSU the lead for good.
McCowan then took over the game on the offensive end. She rebounded a miss by Dominique Dillingham and scored, she hit a jump shot, she rebounded a miss by Breanna Richardson and scored, she rebounded a miss by William and scored.
The play of the game might have come next.
Instead of being denied by what looked to be a triple-team, McCowan rebounded her own miss and ripped the ball from the hands of Washington’s Kelsey Plum, who was trying to force a held ball. McCowan then turned and scored and pumped her fist and celebrated the basket. She converted the free throw to give MSU a 62-52 lead with 6 minutes, 52 seconds remaining.
But McCowan wasn’t done.
An inbounds pass from William found McCowan, who completed the scoring burst. McCowan added five blocks in the quarter, including one on Plum, who entered the game as the nation’s leading scorer at 31.8 points per game.
When asked what changed for her in the fourth quarter, McCowan said, “(My teammates) said, ‘T, you got to dominate.’ 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 me. You have to do what your teammates are asking you to do.”
Washington (29-6) cut the deficit to 68-62 with 3:15 to go, but MSU used big shots down the stretch from William and McCowan to help seal the deal.
McCowan had five of her career-high six blocks in the fourth quarter. She even had one of Washington’s Kelsey Plum, who entered the game as the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer and single-season scoring leader. Plum finished with 29 points, or 2.8 points off her average, but she was 10-for-25 from the field.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer has seen flashes from McCowan, the Southeastern Conference 6th Woman of the Year, but he would like to see efforts like the one McCowan delivered Friday night more often.
“You know, she gets six blocks tonight,” Schaefer said. “There’s one little person right here (pointing to his left shoulder) going, ‘Yes, she could have been doing that all year. Why haven’t you gotten that out of her all year? It’s just growth for her.”
The number of high-fives McCowan received grew as the game went on. Victoria Vivians and Breanna Richardson high-fived McCowan after she scored on a putback of a miss by William and she blocked a shot by Hannah Johnson. McCowan received high-fives from Dillingham, Vivians, and Richardson after she blocked a shot by Aarion McDonald.
Senior center Ketara Chapel said she got into the action, too, and encouraged McCowan to take control of the game.
“I told her after the third quarter, ‘The fourth quarter is your quarter,’ ” Chapel said. “She came out and dominated, so I was so happy for her.
“She got 1,000 high-fives from everybody. She played that good, and she has been doing that all year, so it wasn’t a surprise.”
Vivians and William said it was “amazing” to see McCowan perform at such a high level. They have seen in a 25-point game against Florida, a 17-point, 18 rebound effort against Ole Miss, and a 16-point, 13 rebound effort against Texas A&M. Against Washington, though, the level of McCowan’s dominance was staggering.
“When she is in that mode nobody can stop her, and I know we’re going to win,” Vivians said. “If she keeps doing what she is doing, I am all in.”
Vivians said it might take getting McCowan mad to bring a performance like that out of her. She said McCowan was agitated that Chantel Osahor (17 points, 11 rebounds) was scoring on her in the low post, so she decided she had to do something about it.
“I just told her, ‘Look just go out there and move your feet and play. Don’t worry about anything else and just go out there and play and everything else will fall into place,’ ” Vivians said. “That is what she did.”
Vivians had 13 points and Blair Schaefer added 10 to join McCowan in double figures.
But McCowan, who also had 12 rebounds (career-high eight offensive), was the dominating force that kept the Bulldogs’ record-setting season going.
“She was interested in dominating the game on both ends of the floor,” Schaefer said. “When I get that out of her, it changes the dynamic of our team. That’s the impact that kid can have.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.