Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel each vote to determine espnW's national player of the week, which is awarded every week of the women's college basketball season.
Mississippi State's Teaira McCowan was the only returning starter from last season's national runner-up team that lost just twice. So she was prepared for a lot of weight to be on her shoulders as a senior.
She has carried it well.
The Bulldogs lead the SEC at 5-0, and they are 17-1 overall, their only loss coming Dec. 18 at Oregon. This past week, they beat Auburn and then got just their second victory over South Carolina during coach Vic Schaefer's tenure.
The 6-foot-7 center McCowan led the way in both games and earned espnW national player of the week honors. As the Bulldogs try to win the SEC regular-season title for a second year in a row, McCowan has been the stalwart Mississippi State has needed.
In the 85-59 victory at Auburn on Monday, she had 22 points -- going 9-of-10 from the field -- 10 rebounds and three blocks. But her biggest game of the week was against the rival Gamecocks.
Mississippi State won the regular-season meeting between the teams last season, which ended an 0-11 streak against South Carolina. Then the Gamecocks became the only SEC team to defeat the Bulldogs last season when they won the league tournament final.
The teams play each other twice in the regular season this year, and the Bulldogs won on their home court 89-74 Thursday. Mississippi State suffered a tough personnel loss early in the game when sophomore guard Chloe Bibby suffered what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury, something Schaefer said, "Rips your heart out."
But McCowan stepped up big, as usual, with 26 points, a season-high 24 rebounds and two blocked shots. It was the fifth 20-20 game of her career. She was 9-of-15 from the field and 8-of-9 from the foul line.
For the season, McCowan is averaging 17.3 points and is in the top 10 in the nation in rebounds (13.9, second), shooting percentage (67.0, fifth) and blocked shots (47, eighth).
Also considered: Kianna Ibis, Arizona State; Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon; Alanna Smith, Stanford
Previous winners: Kristine Anigwe, Cal (Nov. 12) | Kierra Anthony, Louisiana Tech (Nov. 19) | Jackie Young, Notre Dame (Nov. 26) | Christyn Williams, UConn (Dec. 3) | Jenna Allen, Michigan State (Dec. 10) | Alanna Smith, Stanford (Dec. 17) | Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Dec. 24) | Katie Benzan, Harvard (Dec. 31) | Kalani Brown, Baylor (Jan. 7) | Cierra Dillard, Buffalo (Jan. 14)