OKLAHOMA CITY -- Teaira McCowan is a sophomore who has started just four times for Mississippi State and crammed the best game of her young career into one quarter Friday. Baylor senior Nina Davis is an all-American who has started 143 games and taken on various roles for the Lady Bears in her four seasons.
They're really different players -- McCowan a 6-foot-7 true center; Davis a 5-11 undersized forward -- at different points in their college careers. But here in the Oklahoma City Regional semifinals, they were the women in the spotlight. And now their programs will meet Sunday (ESPN/WatchESPN, 7:36 p.m. ET) for a trip to the Final Four.
McCowan took over the fourth quarter of the second-seeded Bulldogs' 75-64 victory over No. 3 Washington. No, that's not a strong enough way to put it: She owned the quarter, which decided the game. Davis led a tour-de-force of depth and precision from No. 1 seed Baylor, getting a team-high 21 points plus seven rebounds in a 97-63 victory over No. 4 Louisville.
Davis makes her fourth trip to the Elite Eight. Baylor lost to Notre Dame in her freshman and sophomore seasons, and to Oregon State last year. Davis carried an especially big load for Baylor in her second year, when she averaged 21.1 points and was a first-team All-American.
"She had to do it all every night," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "We wanted to get help around her, to relieve some of that pressure."
Now Davis has a ton of help; Mulkey has called this her deepest team. Friday, Baylor post players Kalani Brown and Beatrice Mompremier combined for 26 points and 25 rebounds. Guards Alexis Prince (14 points) and Kristy Wallace (12) led the way on the perimeter.
Prince, a redshirt senior, was a freshman when Louisville upset then-defending NCAA champion Baylor in the Sweet 16 here in Oklahoma City in 2013. Davis was a high school senior already committed to Baylor at that time, and watched the game at home in Memphis on television.
"I remember I was pretty disappointed just seeing it on TV," Davis said. "I can't imagine how bad it was for the players that were here."
Indeed, it was a crushing blow for Baylor. But Friday, there really wasn't a whiff of such an upset. The Lady Bears were far too powerful, holding Louisville to 30 percent shooting from the field.
"We're on a roll," Mulkey said. "Just playing some good basketball."
The Bulldogs are doing the same, although their game with Washington was closer. Their win ended the college career of Huskies senior Kelsey Plum, who scored 29 points -- finishing with an NCAA-record 3,527 for her career -- and can look back with a lot of pride at her time at Washington.
But what Plum helped the Huskies do last season -- make the program's first Final four -- is what McCowan hopes to do for Mississippi State, which has never before advanced to the regional final.
The Bulldogs are in that position in large part because McCowan ruled the last 10 minutes. They trailed 50-48 at the end of the third quarter. At that point, McCowan had 6 points, 5 rebounds and 1 blocked shot. But the volcano was about to erupt.
McCowan started the final period scoring 16 consecutive points. She finished the game with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks.
"Tonight, we kind of emptied the playbook for T; we wanted to get her to her spots where she's really comfortable," Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. "T continues to grow. She's come so far, yet she's got so far to go. Her upside is out of sight."
Schaefer opted to start McCowan for the first time this season in the NCAA tournament opener after she'd had a strong SEC tournament. That wasn't the only change he has made, of course. Victoria Vivians, the Bulldogs' leading scorer, Dominique Dillingham, Chinwe Okorie, Breanna Richardson and Morgan William started together most of Mississippi State's games this season.
For the NCAA tournament, though, only point guard William has started, joined by McCowan, Ketara Chapel, Roshunda Johnson and Blair Schaefer. It worked well for the first two rounds, with the Bulldogs scoring 110 and 92 points in victories over Troy and DePaul, respectively.
But heading into the fourth quarter Friday, it seemed far from certain that Mississippi State would be able to hold off the Huskies. Then it was McCowan time. She said her teammates told her, "T, you've got to dominate."
"McCowan is a really tough matchup," Washington coach Mike Neighbors said. "She was very motivated. She got going, got really confident."
Mulkey wasn't surprised by McCowan's success.
"Teaira McCowan lives in our backyard," Mulkey said, referring to McCowan's hometown of Brenham, Texas, about a two hour drive south of Baylor's campus in Waco. "Watched her grow up. Unfortunately, you have to make certain decisions in recruiting; she's in the same class as [Brown and Mompremier]. I'm proud and happy for her."
But there's nobody that Mulkey is more proud of than Davis, her senior do-it-all leader. She's averaging the least points of her career this season -- 12.8 -- because Baylor has so many more weapons. Not every player could handle being the focal point of a team when she was younger, but sharing the basketball more as she got older. Yet Davis has done it with her usual upbeat personality.
"She's handled it like a trooper," Mulkey said. "Selfish players that you see on TV -- they want everything today. All this kid wants is a Final Four and a chance at a national championship. Send me those kind of kids, and I'll coach 'em anytime."