Columbus -They missed their first four shots, their first two free throws, and didn’t get on the board until Teaira McCowan put up two free throws at the 5:29 mark of the first quarter.
Victoria Vivians finally iced Mississippi State’s first field goal at 3:48, to give Louisville a 7-4 lead. But the Bulldogs came up big when it counted, both in the paint and at the end of overtime, as they ran past the Cardinals, 73-63.
McCowan led her team with 21 points and a career and Final Four-high 25 rebounds, while Vivians scored 25 and Morgan William, 10.
The showdown of two top seeds sends Mississippi State to the National Championship game for the second consecutive year, in a second overtime period.
The back-and-forth battle continued throughout regulation play, with teams trading baskets and Louisville mounting the largest lead of either squad with 7:14 to go, with a 53-46 advantage. The Bulldogs rallied back and took the lead back with 3:23 remaining on a McCowan layup. Roshunda Johnson scored a three-pointer to tie the game at 59 with seconds left. The Cardinals had a chance to win at the buzzer, but Myisha Hines-Allen missed a layup.
Vivians took over in the extra period, scoring five points before fouling out. Reserve Jordan Danberry stepped in and took up the slack with defensive play free throw shots to help Mississippi State run away with the win.
Asia Durr led the Cardinals with 18 points while Jazmine Jones had 15 and Hines-Allen scored 11.
Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer admitted the game was a grind.
“Today was pretty tough,” he said. “You’re going to have to do something right, and a lot of people are going to have to do it right.”
Louisville coach Jeff Walz said his team’s performance during the entire game was a factor in the loss.
“It was a game of runs, big-time shots by big-time players,” he said. “Obviously, Johnson’s three was huge. Obviously, sends the game into overtime. But there’s plays in the first half….”
Mississippi State, 37-1, and the Cardinals, 36-3, had never played each other before in program history. The Bulldogs beat top-seeded UConn in last year’s semifinal to advance to the National Championship game, where they lost to South Carolina.
They face Notre Dame Sunday for the national title.