Balance brings Bulldogs back to Final Four

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Victoria Vivians snipped off a piece of the net and twirled it at the top of the ladder.

“It’s just so surreal,” Vivians said. “That moment, being up there and you know you have great people surrounding you doing it as well.”

It’s a perfect way to describe what is taking Mississippi State back to the Final Four. The Bulldogs have said their balance and scoring depth is what separates this year’s team from last year’s national runner-up squad. Their 89-73 Elite Eight win over UCLA on Sunday night was a prime example of how they’ve evolved, with four MSU players scoring in double figures.

“You can’t leave anybody open,” Teaira McCowan said. “Say I’m going to leave Ro (Roshunda Johnson) open. Well, Ro is going to knock down the shot. Don’t come and double team me off of Blair (Schaefer). Blair is going to knock down the shot. Tori (Victoria Vivians) is going take you off the bounce. Morgan is going to get open three’s like she did tonight. So you got to pick what you are going to do.”

In the first half against the Bruins, it was Vivians carrying the load with 16 points. Over the course of the game, McCowan overcame some early misses with key rebounds and putbacks to put up 23 points and 21 rebounds. Roshunda Johnson, Morgan William and Blair Schaefer combined for 38 points and shot 78 percent from deep. It was a full display of the how the Bulldog arsenal has developed.

“Last year, we were kind of stagnant,” Vivians said. “Everybody wasn’t hot all at one time. This team now, we’re an offensive threat and a defensive threat. We get down and do the dirty work on defense, we take charges, we get out and deny the ball, we pressure the ball. On offense, we have scorers all around. We have the inside game and the outside game.”

Vic Schaefer has three players averaging double figures while all five of his starters average at least eight points per game. He knows that type of production doesn’t come around too often.

“This group is hard to guard,” Schaefer said. “There is no question about it. I’ve walked off the floor sometimes and said I see what it’s like to have Golden State because this group, they can all score it.”

“Everyone on this team has done something to get us this far,” Blair Schaefer said.

And that’s what led them back to the top of a ladder to grab a pair of scissors and take down some nylon.

“When you cut it down, it’s always a memory,” McCowan said. “When you look back at the piece that you cut, why’d you cut it? How’d you cut it? It’s all in a process.”

A process of a collection of pieces removing a net piece-by-piece. That’s a pretty fitting way to describe the Bulldogs.

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