COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer motioned toward 6-7 center Teaira McCowan in the aftermath of a thrilling 73-63 overtime victory against Louisville in the Women's Final Four at Nationwide Arena on Friday.
McCowan, who had delivered a dominant performance with 21 points and a Final Four-record 25 rebounds, looked at her coach. The Bulldogs (37-1) advanced to Sunday's national championship game against Notre Dame (34-3) — a second chance to claim the program's first national championship. Schaefer knew one of the reasons why.
"This one," Schaefer said in amazement. "What do you say about Tea? 25 and 21? She's done it all year against the best teams in the country, the best coaches in the country. She did it tonight on the best stage you can do it on. Plays all 40 minutes, 6-foot-7."
"45," McCowan interrupted.
"Sorry. 45 minutes," Schaefer retracted. "That's just hard to do for anybody."
That's a good snapshot of what McCowan cares about heading into that championship game. She didn't want to talk about the points or rebounds or the fact she could break the two-game Final Four record, for rebounds which Old Dominion's Tracy Claxton set with 37 in 1985.
Instead, McCowan talked about the screen she set that popped Roshunda Johnson open for the game-tying 3-pointer in regulation. McCowan made a slight adjustment that helped make that shot possible.
"They thought we were going to go to Blair (Schaefer)," McCowan said. "So once I saw everybody shift, I took one fake back and screened for Ro and got her back in the middle of the free-throw line. I knew she was going to be open when she threw the ball, and Ro knocked down the shot."
There's also the 45 minutes. She was the only player on the floor to play all 45 minutes in a back-and-forth with the Cardinals, and that left Louisville coach Jeff Walz just as impressed.
"We knew we weren't going to be able to hold her scoreless," Walz said. "I had talked before about just guarding everybody else and seeing if she can score 50 on us. She's got 25 rebounds; halfway there on the boards part. You know, I thought we did a really good job on her."
Now the Bulldogs match up with the Fighting Irish, and McCowan figures to be one of the biggest storylines. It's a marked difference from last year's Final Four, where McCowan averaged 8.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 25 minutes in the two games against UConn and South Carolina.
What made the difference?
"Well, in practice we play 'Bulldog,' it's a little scrimmage of five minutes," McCowan said. "It's the toughest five minutes ever. That just really prepares me in the game. You don't get any subs. So, you're just going three games, five minutes — four minutes?"
"Four minutes," Schaefer interrupted.
"So, yeah," McCowan said with a smile. "Just going and competing."
It doesn't matter if it's four or 45 minutes.
Mississippi State knows McCowan will fight no matter how long it takes.