On Sunday, in Kansas City, Mississippi State defeated UCLA, a very good team playing extremely well, to earn a berth in the Bulldogs’ second straight Final Four.

On Monday, State’s marvelous senior Victoria Vivians earned first team All America honors from the Associated Press.

Another day, another accolade for Vic Schaefer’s basketball team that now has won 36 games, while losing only one and has not lost a game to a team not named South Carolina since Feb. 26, 2017.

But if the Bulldogs still need motivation, there’s plenty to be found.

Especially if your name happens to be Teaira McCowan.

Remarkably, the Bulldogs’ McCowan was relegated to the AP’s third team All-America list, which means those who select that squad believe there were at least 10 players more deserving of All-America designation.

That’s absurd.

McCowan showed just how absurd Sunday when she scored 23 points and pulled down 21 rebounds to lead State to its 89-73 victory over UCLA. McCowan dominated the paint, just as she did when State defeated North Carolina State 71-56 in a Sweet 16 showdown. In that one, McCowan scored 24 points, pulled down 15 rebounds, blocked four shots and made all 11 of her field goal attempts, tying a 33-year-old NCAA Tournament record.

More importantly, that’s what McCowan has done all season long, averaging nearly 18 points and more than 13 rebounds per game. What’s more, McCowan has hit 61.1 percent of her field goal attempts, far better than any one on the first team.

Indeed, you can make a solid argument that no single player in America has been more valuable to her team than McCowan has been to State. Sometimes, when watching State games it seems that McCowan is the sun and there are nine other planets (players) revolving around her.

If you are wondering who picks the AP All America team, it’s a 32-member national media panel. The voting was done before the NCAA Tournament began. Only one of the 32 voters voted McCowan to the first team.

The Bulldogs, including McCowan and Vivians, would probably tell you this isn’t about individual honors. Their eyes on are the ultimate prize: a first-ever national championship.

The next step in that direction will be a huge one. State will play 36-2 Louisville, another No. 1 seed, in the national semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.

Louisville is a team that in many ways mirrors Mississippi State. That is, while the Cardinals possess plenty of offensive firepower they thrive with their defense. Opponents shoot just 37 percent from the field against them and Louisville forces just over 16 turnovers per game

And the Cardinals have their own All American in junior Asia Durr, who averaged 19 points per game and was at her best in the most important games.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.