PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer remembers the team’s last meeting with Arizona State as grueling. He expects much the same when the top-seeded Bulldogs face the No. 5 Sun Devils on Friday night in the Sweet 16.
The teams played last season at the Cancun Challenge, with Mississippi State downing Arizona State 65-57. The Bulldogs trailed by two going into the final quarter but prevailed in the end. Teaira McCowan led MSU with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
“Know them well. I’ve played them several times throughout my career,” Schaefer said. “We played them a year ago in the islands, had a knock-down, drag-out with them. It was a tremendous basketball game. We were fortunate to win that one.”
The Bulldogs (32-2) are making their fourth straight appearance in the Sweet 16 and they’re vying to make a third straight Elite Eight. They have an experienced team led by 6-foot-7 senior center McCowan, who is averaging 18.3 points and 13.5 rebounds.
Mississippi State has won 10 straight going into Friday’s game, which includes a victory over Arkansas for the SEC Tournament title. The Bulldogs also claimed the regular-season title, going 15-1 in conference play.
To get to Portland, Mississippi State defeated 16th-seeded Southern 103-46 in the opening round before an 85-61 victory over No. 9 Clemson on Sunday.
Arizona State (22-10) is making its sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The team has reached the final eight twice, in 2007 and 2009. Overall, Arizona State is 2-2 in Sweet 16 games.
The Sun Devils downed No. 12 UCF 60-45 before edging fourth-seeded Miami 57-55 to advance.
ASU coach Charli Turner Thorne said she thinks Mississippi State is better than they were last year when the teams met.
“They’re just really good at knowing who they are. They know who they are. They know what their role is. They play it really well. Each person knows how they’re supposed to score. They look for each other, they take turns doing that role very, very well,” Turner Thorne said.
Arizona State forward Kianna Ibis said: “I just remember it was a really close game. We knew that it was just a battle of possessions. That’s what it possibly could be tomorrow, as well.”
Second-seeded Oregon (31-4) plays No. 6 seed South Dakota State (28-6) in the late game Friday night.
SCOUTING THE DUCKS: Oregon is in the Sweet Sixteen for the third straight year. The Ducks have been to the Elite Eight the last two seasons, and are 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament under coach Kelly Graves.
Sabrina Ionescu is averaging 19.7 points, 8.2 assists and 7.5 rebounds. The junior guard had her 18th career triple-double, an ongoing NCAA record, in the Ducks’ 91-68 second-round victory Sunday over Indiana. The Pac-12 Player of the Year finished with 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
Oregon easily dispatched No. 15 seed Portland State 78-40 in the first-round game.
SCOUTING THE JACKRABBITS: This is the first time South Dakota State has made the Sweet 16. It’s also a first for a Summit League team. The Jackrabbits have won 18 straight games.
Overall, SDSU has been to the tournament nine times in the past 11 years. To get to this point, the Jackrabbits beat 11th seed Quinnipiac 76-65 then upset No. 3 Syracuse 75-64.
FAMILIAR FOES: Oregon has faced all three of the teams at the Portland Regional this season. The Ducks defeated South Dakota State 87-79 on Dec. 12 in Brookings, then beat Mississippi State 82-74 in Las Vegas, before twice defeating Pac-12 foe Arizona State (77-71 at home on Jan. 18, and 66-59 on March 3 in Tempe) during the conference season.
“I do think that’s a little funny we have played all these teams before. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before,” Ionescu said.
TRAVEL: Oregon got the travel advantage in the Portland Regional, with only about 110 miles separating the Moda Center from Eugene. Mississippi State, located in Starkville, is some 2,450 miles away.
ALL FOR ONE: Five Pac-12 teams are in the Sweet 16, pointing to the strength of the conference.
“What I really like is I know genuinely we all care about each other’s programs, and we’re pulling for each other. The first text I got after we won our last game was from coach (Tara) VanDerveer. She’s always championing the league. That always means a lot,” Graves said about his colleague at Stanford.
FANS: There were 10,650 tickets sold for the Portland Regional as of Thursday morning, prompting organizers to open the top level at the Moda Center. The home of the NBA’s Trail Blazers seats nearly 20,000.
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