PORTLAND — The Ducks have a tall task in front of them in the Portland Regional final Sunday.
Top-seeded Mississippi State, led by 6-foot-7 center Teaira McCowan, continued its quest to reach the Final Four for a third consecutive season with a 76-53 smothering of No. 5 Arizona State on Friday night at Moda Center.
McCowan finished with 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting and 13 rebounds. In the process, the SEC player of the year became the all-time leading rebounder in women’s NCAA Tournament history with 225 and counting.
“I mean, that's a physical team right there,” McCowan said of the defensive-oriented Sun Devils (22-11). “But the SEC is a physical conference, as well. It was kind of the same. Physical is physical (smiling).”
There wasn’t anything sweet about this Sweet 16 slugfest.
A total of 44 fouls were called (27 on Arizona State) in the bruising regional semifinal. Mississippi State took advantage of a favorable whistle by knocking down 25 of 35 free throws.
“It was really a battle down there, it was a very physical team,” Arizona State senior forward Kiana Ibis said. “We just tried to match their physicality. We weren't disciplined today, and that really showed.”
And things got chippy after the game.
McCowan, who was 10-for-11 at the stripe, had to be held back by her teammates after a verbal exchange with the Sun Devils in the handshake line.
“I just want to say an apology to Mississippi State,” Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “Obviously a very physical game. One of our players did say something at the end of the game that upset another one of their players. That's not who we are. That's not what we ever do. We always shake hands. We're always very respectful and classy.”
All five starters scored in double figures for the Bulldogs, who have won 11 consecutive games and 33 of their last 34 games since losing 82-74 to Oregon on Dec. 18 in Eugene.
Mississippi State, which has lost in the last two NCAA championship games, outscored Arizona State 22-8 in the fourth quarter to advance to the Elite Eight.
“I love how Charli's teams play. Just like my teams,” Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer said. “It's hard to deal with (McCowan) one-on-one. You got to bring help from somewhere. A lot of times there were three people around her tonight. She has really gotten smart. I give the kid a lot of credit.
"She's developed mentally in understanding what she can and can't do. A month and a half ago, she was a bull in a china cabinet that night we played in Missouri and got beat. She's learned from that night.”
Arizona State was whistled for 10 fouls in the third quarter and fell behind by as many as 13 points as the Bulldogs went 13-for-18 at the free-throw line.
Ibis completed a four-point play to cut the Sun Devils’ deficit to 54-45 entering the fourth quarter.
“I wouldn't say we've played a team as physical as them,” said Ibis, who was the only Arizona State player to score in double figures with 16 points. “I think that's why they're going on to the Elite Eight. I feel like they're going to go far in this tournament.”
Mississippi State will have to beat Oregon, which is also making its third consecutive Elite Eight appearance, in a road environment to advance to the Final Four in Tampa, Fla.