Columbus – If either the Louisville Cardinals or the Mississippi State Bulldogs win a program-first National Championship Sunday, it will be after they have already made history.
When the two high-octane teams face off in tomorrow’s semifinal, it will be the first time they have ever faced one another. And while it is the third Final Four for Louisville and the second straight for MSU, the differences seem to stop there. With offensive firepower from loaded rosters, the Cardinals and Bulldogs might essentially be playing each other.
MSU coach Vic Schaefer said Louisville coach Jeff Walz has “a heck of a team.”
“They’re extremely multi-dimensional, multi-talented, can do a lot of things to hurt you,” Schaefer said. “Offensively and defensively, they’re a mirror image. When I look at them, I think we could probably, you know, both our teams are very, very similar.”
Walz said he and Schaefer both demand and challenge their players.
“I feel that we do things pretty much the same way,” Walz said. “I think he’s got really tough kids that are going to come and compete, and I truly believe we have tough kids. That’s a process. It’s not something that a lot of them just come in with. It’s something that they learn throughout their time with us.”
The Cardinals, 36-2, won the ACC title by beating Notre Dame by two points. They were at the Final Four in 2009 and 2013. The 36-1 Bulldogs suffered their only loss this season in the SEC title game, as they lost to South Carolina. MSU snapped Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak in last year’s championship semi with a buzzer-beater that shocked the nation. Now the Irish and the Huskies are playing on the other side of the bracket.
If the Bulldogs make it to the Championship round again, they would love nothing more than a UConn rematch.
“I think we’ve both been probably fueled by what happened a year ago,” Schaefer said. “For us, we’ve now got to get ready and play a very, very good Louisville team that’s extremely well coached by great players. We’re both from very good conferences. That’s our challenge this week is trying to get ready for them.”
Powerhouse Bulldog 6-7 center Teaira McCowan is nearly unbeatable in the paint. This season alone she has had 26 double-doubles. The Cardinals will need to step up and move McCowan out of the paint to secure rebounds and prevent second-chance shots from their opponents.
“We’re going to try to come up with a plan and figure out what we can do to try to slow them down,” Jeff Walz said. “Our offensive efficiency has to be very good in order for us to win and compete on Friday night.”
Asia Durr leads Louisville’s fast-paced offense, averaging 19.5 points per game while shooting 45.9 percent from the field. With forward Myisha Hines-Allen, they are a lethal duo.
“I like what we’re doing at the offensive end,” Walz said. “I like how we’re sharing the basketball, we’re making the extra pass. We’re really getting downhill towards the basket, trying to get tempo, and that’s what we have to continue to do. I don’t want bad shots, but I do want the ball moving, I do want us playing quick.”
As each team has their similarities, MSU has an advantage inside the paint with McCowan, and Louisville has a good mid-range face-up game. Both teams plan on a high scoring game Friday night.
“We have to continue to score in order to win,” Walz said. “You look at his (Vic Schaefer) four NCAA Tournament games, they’re 95, 71, 71, 89. So they continue to put points on the board, and that’s what we’re going to have to try and do. We’ll obviously guard and so will they. But I think it’s going to try to focus on scoring the ball.”