COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the second year in a row, Mississippi State University’s women’s basketball team (37-1) will play in the NCAA Women’s National Championship, and they face yet another formidable opponent. The Lady Bulldogs will face University of Notre Dame (34-3) on the national stage Sunday night.
Friday night, following the MSU win, Notre Dame faced the University of Connecticut, and much like the MSU-Louisville game, this game was forced into overtime. Eventually, the Irish outlasted the Huskies.
MSU fans and UConn fans alike hoped for a rematch, making it the third year in a row MSU would meet UConn in the postseason. Even coach Vic Schaefer was anticipating a rematch. However, he does not doubt Notre Dame’s tenacity.
“The only thing worse than playing Connecticut is playing the team that beat them," Schaefer said. "They're really good. Notre Dame is a heck of a team.”
This is not Schaefer’s first time facing Notre Dame in the postseason. In 2011, while Schaefer was an assistant coach at Texas A&M, the Aggies met the Irish in the National Championship and ultimately won. Schaefer points to the leadership and offensive prowess of Notre Dame’s team as the obstacles to overcome this year to win the title.
The MSU team is excited for another chance at the title, and for the seniors, it is a chance for redemption of unfinished business from last year. If the Bulldogs win, it will be the first NCAA National Championship in MSU's history.
Senior guard Morgan William, of Birmingham, Alabama, noted the game's importance, not just to them but to everyone in Mississippi.
“I think it is going to impact the university a great bit," William said. "It would be great for the seniors, but bigger for the school and the city of Starkville as a whole.”
Blair Schaefer, a senior guard from Starkville, talked about what winning the title would mean to her in her final year.
“Honestly, I think winning a National Championship title for my dad would leave me speechless," Blair Schaefer said. "He’s really putting so much time and effort into developing me as a player. I’ve spent my whole life with him, and for him to start molding me from a kid up until college, it would just be full circle for me.”
Unlike last year’s National Championship, the Bulldogs are not riding a high of snapping UConn’s 111-win streak in the Final Four. They are ready to go out and take care of business this year in order to bring home the trophy. The team knows the emotions going into the National Championship this year are different and they cannot get ahead of themselves.
“It’s not over and we have to come back to the real world and keep our composure for that last game," senior guard Roshunda Johnson, of Little Rock, Arkansas, said.
Throughout the game, the Bulldogs need to be defensively strong to match Notre Dame’s offense, and it would not be surprising to see Teaira McCowan play another full game.
McCowan is the enforcer on MSU's defense. She has 64 blocks on the season and 167 in her career at MSU. More importantly though, the 6'7 junior changes shots with her length and wingspan. She also now holds the record for most rebounds in a NCAA Tournament with 92. She grabbed 25 rebounds against Louisville in the Final Four. Her rebounding ensures the opposition does not get second chances: something important against an offense like Notre Dame's.
The National Championship will take place at 5 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio, at Nationwide Arena.
For those in Starkville, there will be a watch party at The Hump, where admission is free and doors open at 4 p.m. The MSU Alumni Association is also hosting watch parties in cities across the south for those who went home for Easter.