COLUMBUS, Ohio — Vic Schaefer hasn’t run out of superlatives for Teaira McCowan.
That’s good news for the Mississippi State women’s basketball team because McCowan and the Bulldogs have one more game on their schedule.
As great as McCowan has been in an All-America junior season, her performance Friday night in MSU’s 73-63 victory against Louisville before a crowd of 19,564 in the first national semifinal at Nationwide Arena might have been the best of her career.
The 6-foot-7 center had 21 points and a career-high 25 rebounds. Her rebounding total set a new record for a national semifinal, eclipsing the previous mark of 20 set by LSU’s Sylvia Fowles against Tennessee in 2008.
“What do you say about T?” said Schaefer, who is rarely left speechless. “She’s done it all year against the best teams in the country, best coaches in the country. She did it tonight on the best stage you can do it on.”
McCowan played all 45 minutes and was the foreman on a cleaning crew that helped MSU hold a 46-38 rebounding edge. Louisville entered the game with a +7.4 rebounding advantage against opponents.
With McCowan grabbing 13 offensive rebounds, MSU (37-1) won the battle of points in the paint (38-28) and second-chance points (23-12).
“She wants to get them all,” Schaefer said of McCowan’s desire to get every rebound. “You can see that as she’s playing, how hard she plays.”
McCowan’s ability to play without fouling has enabled her to “wear” on teams all season. Against Louisville, she grew stronger as the game progressed. In the fourth quarter, she turned on the block and converted a right-handed shot to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 53-52. She then rebounded a miss in the lane by Jordan Danberry and scored to give MSU a 54-53 lead.
At the end of regulation, McCowan set the screen in the middle of the free-throw line that gave Roshunda Johnson enough time and space to hit the tying 3-pointer from the left wing that sent the game to overtime.
When asked after the game if she sensed she was affecting the Cardinals’ post players, McCowan said, “They were subbing them out, so I didn’t really know who I had. I guess I was wearing them out pretty good.”
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said prior to the game McCowan was the biggest difference between two teams that were similar in so many ways. He said the Cardinals tried their best to push McCowan away from the basket so she wouldn’t be as involved.
“We were truing to make it as difficult as we could,” Walz said. “I thought Sam (Fuehring) competed and fought all night long. All of them did. Myisha (Hines-Allen) did a heck of a job in there competing and fighting.
“Teaira’s a great player. We all know that. She did a phenomenal job on the offensive glass, and that was the one concern we had was trying to keep her off the offensive glass, trying to face guard or do whatever we could Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to do it.”
McCowan has left plenty of opponents feeling that way this season on her way to a program-record 28th double-double of the season. Associate head coach Johnnie Harris wondered early in the season what she could do to motivate McCowan to play at a high level for longer stretches. She finally settled on encouraging McCowan to shatter what then was the program record of 20 double-doubles in a season set by LaToya Thomas. The decision worked and has kept McCowan motivated all season. As a result, she was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference and the league’s co-defensive player of the year with South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson. McCowan also was named a co-Most Outstanding Player of the Kansas City Region, first-team All-American by espnW, and third-team All-American by The Associated Press.
Instead of getting overconfident from all of the attention, McCowan has grown stronger and developed a louder voice. She showed it when she corrected Schaefer in the post-game news conference when he inadvertently said she played 40 minutes.
On a night like Friday when McCowan and the Bulldogs worked overtime for everything they earned, McCowan, who moved past Chanel Mokango into second place on MSU’s all-time list for blocked shots (182), wasn’t about to let anybody short change her of anything.
“She is an All-American,” William said. “There is really nothing else I can say.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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