It will be a battle of No. 1 seeds on Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, as the Bulldogs take on Louisville. Whichever team emerges with the title will have earned this, as for the fourth time in history the women’s Final Four features the top seed from each region. Before looking ahead to a matchup with UConn or Notre Dame for the silverware, Mississippi State must find a way to get past the Cardinals.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Feed Teaira McCowan
The Bulldogs guard/post combination is as strong as that of any team in the nation and the key to that dynamic is Teaira McCowan. The 6-foot-7 center is a matchup nightmare and the Bulldogs must use her size and athleticism advantage inside against the Cardinals. McCowan averaged 13.6 rebounds per game over the course of the regular season and then turned it up even more with a nonsensical 21 rebounds as the Bulldogs beat UCLA. She also shoots over 61-percent from the field, doing all of her damage down low and drawing double teams that she can then pass out of.
The Bulldogs are better when McCowan is at her dominating best and they will need her to be that way in Columbus.
Slow down the Cardinals
Louisville runs an offensive system that is a little boom or bust. It is a high tempo, fast break style of attack, with the Cardinals trying to beat teams down the floor and run off of any missed basket. The star of the offense is Asia Durr, a point guard with crazy handles and fantastic speed down the court. The problem Durr has that at 5-foot-10 she can sometimes get lost when driving into the paint, something that the Cardinals will have to consider with McCowan on the low block.
Louisville wants to get into the lane, be it on the fast break or by working the ball around the court. Their tempo that causes so many problems may well be negated by the ability of McCowan to offensive rebound and prevent the attack. If the Bulldogs take smart shots - when they are in position to rebound or defend off of a miss - then they will win.
Be the best defensive team
Both Mississippi State and Louisville have looked unstoppable in the NCAA Tournament so far. While the Bulldogs were comfortably handling UCLA, the Cardinals were destroying Oregon State. An Elite Eight win by a score of 76-43 just isn’t supposed to be a thing, but that was the whooping that Louisville gave the Beavers.
The number bear out that this is a clash between two stunningly good defensive teams. The Bulldogs have held opponents to 39-percent from the floor, but Louisville has held them to 37.7-percent when shooting the ball. The Bulldogs force 18.6 turnovers each time out, while Louisville makes their opponent give up the rock 17 times per game.
Baskets will have to be earned in this game. Louisville is athletic and aggressive, so the Bulldogs will have to be ready for their defensive pressure. Mississippi State will have to be mentally prepared to win a tough, low-scoring game on Friday night.