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Mississippi State women’s basketball reaches second straight Final Four with win over UCLA

Mississippi State guard Victoria Vivians (35) rebounds against

Mississippi State guard Victoria Vivians (35) rebounds against UCLA forwards Monique Billings, second from right, and Michaela Onyenwere, right, during the first half of a women's NCAA college basketball tournament regional final game, Sunday, March 25, 2018, in Kansas City, Mo. Credit: AP / Orlin Wagner

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Teaira McCowan had 23 points and 21 rebounds, Victoria Vivans added 24 points and top-seeded Mississippi State beat relentless UCLA 89-73 on Sunday night to reach its second straight Final Four.

Morgan William added 17 points, and Roshunda Johnson had 12 for the Bulldogs (36-1), who blew a good chunk of an 18-point second-half lead before hanging on to extend their school record for wins in a season — and lock up a trip to the national semifinals in Columbus, Ohio.

They’ll meet another No. 1 seed in Louisville on Friday night.

Jordin Canada led the third-seeded Bruins (27-8) with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Japreece Dean finished with 16 points, and Monique Billings and Kennedy Burke had 12 apiece, most of it coming when the Bruins were trying to rally from a 50-32 hole.

They closed within 74-68 on Dean’s 3-pointer with 2:53 left, but they couldn’t get a stop on the defensive end. Instead, they traded basket-for-basket down the stretch, and Mississippi State managed to clinch the win from the foul line in the final minute.

Early on, the Bulldogs followed the same formula they used in routing North Carolina State, dumping it into the much larger McCowan for easy baskets inside. The 6-foot-7 center, who had 24 points in that regional semifinal, scored six during an 11-0 run that gave her team the lead.

Vivians gave the Bulldogs control.

The senior forward from Carthage, Mississippi, converted a three-point play to begin the second period, then added eight more later in the quarter. She finished with 16 points in the first half, and her spinning, driving layup helped the Bulldogs take a 42-26 lead into the locker room.

The only offense UCLA could muster came from Canada, and most of that was at the foul line.

The Bulldogs’ lead eventually reached 18 points midway through the third quarter before the Bruins, fueled by defense, began to nip away at it. UCLA finally got it under 10 at 53-44 before Blair Schaefer hit a couple of deep 3-pointers to give Mississippi State another boost.

UCLA made one final run, trimming a 67-52 deficit to 67-61 with 6:52 to go. But after the teams traded baskets, Schaefer knocked down her third 3 from the top of the key to silence the Bruins’ bench.

Mississippi State kept finding answers until pulling away in the final minute.

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