Eds: With AP Photos.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Half the women’s Final Four field is set.
No. 1 seeds Mississippi State and Louisville are headed to Columbus, Ohio, to play each other in the national semifinals Friday night.
UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Oregon look to join them in the other half of the Elite Eight on Monday night.
The Bulldogs are in the Final Four for a second consecutive year. Last season, no one outside of Starkville, Mississippi, gave them much of a chance to make it to the championship game. Then Morgan William hit the shot heard around women’s basketball and the Bulldogs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history, ending UConn’s 111-game winning streak for a title. With most of the team back, including William, Victoria Vivians and 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, Mississippi State is hoping to go one step further and win the school’s first national championship.
“They’ve lived all year with a bulls-eye on their backs. That’s hard to do, y’all,” said coach Vic Schaefer, who arrived at the postgame news conference with the net draped around his neck.
“These kids,” their coach added, “are special.”
Standing in the way of a return to the title game is Louisville. The Cardinals played smothering defense and routed sixth-seeded Oregon State to win the Lexington Regional.
It’s Louisville’s third trip to the Final Four under coach Jeff Walz. The Cardinals reached the national semifinals in 2009 and 2013. They lost to UConn in the title game both times.
UConn faces South Carolina in a matchup of the last two national champions. Second-seed Oregon faces Notre Dame in the Spokane Regional title game.
Here are a few other tidbits from Sunday’s Elite Eight games:
BATTLING A DISABILITY: South Carolina star A’ja Wilson revealed her lifelong struggle with dyslexia in an article for The Players’ Tribune. Wilson discussed how the learning disability was something she tried to hide when she was a child and how it was something she was able to deal with once she got some help.
“I just felt like it was the right time to release it. This is the period of my life. This is where my college career is slowly coming to an end,” Wilson said. “I just felt deep down in my heart that it was OK for the world to know what I was battling with.
“People tend to get caught up in the basketball A’ja and don’t understand that I am still human. I go through stuff as well and battling with dyslexia has been super, super hard for me. I hated the feeling of people feeling sorry for me. When I was younger I really didn’t like talking about it. I still kind of feel weird talking to people about it.”
STAT LINE: McCowan had 23 points and a career-best 21 rebounds in the win over UCLA on Sunday night.
STRONG IN DEFEAT: Jordin Canada led the relentless Bruins with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists, despite playing with a sprained elbow.
“She’s got the heart of a lion,” UCLA coach Cori Close said.
Canada, Kelli Hayes and Monique Billings finished with 97 career wins, two short of the UCLA record for a four-year span. They helped lead the team to three straight Sweet 16 appearances for the first time in school history and to their first Elite Eight appearance since 1999.
Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg