KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After UCLA advanced to the second weekend of the women’s NCAA Tournament, Cori Close checked her phone for messages.

One of them was from Nan Wooden, the daughter of the Bruins’ iconic men’s coach.

“Daddy would have liked watching this team,” Nan said, “and daddy would have been proud of you.”

Close nearly choked up recalling the message, shortly after her third-seeded Bruins went a step further by beating No. 2 seed Texas to reach the Elite Eight. And just imagine how John Wooden would have felt if they can reach their first Final Four with a victory over Mississippi State.

The Bruins play the top-seeded Bulldogs in the regional final on Sunday night.

“Coach Wooden mentored me for 15 years,” Close said. “Forget me as a coach, my life has been deeply affected by him and his influence and his time. That’s really humbling.”

The task ahead of her team is hardly easy.

The Bulldogs (35-1) set a school record for wins in a season when they romped past fourth-seeded North Carolina State on Friday night. They return most of the stars that led them to the national title game last season, including 6-foot-7 standout Teaira McCowan.

Their only loss all season came to powerhouse South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.

“Mississippi State is a great team,” said the Bruins’ star, Jordin Canada. “We know it’s going to be a battle. But I think it comes down to us and what we need to do to execute our game plan, and stay together as a team and do what makes us great — playing to our strengths.

“I think,” she said, “that’s what it’s going to take for Sunday.”

The Bulldogs certainly played to their strengths against the Wolfpack, lobbing the ball inside to McCowan for easy baskets. She wound up with 24 points on perfect shooting, both from the field and the foul line, and pulled down 15 rebounds in a performance that will long be remembered in Starkvegas.

She was matter-of-fact about her night, too.

“A lot of teams say I wear on them,” she said, “so at the beginning of the game teams are giddy and going, and the end of the game is when I always get ’em. Either way, it’s a lose-lose.”

Well, it has been for just about everybody this season. But the Bruins believe they have what it takes to stop the Bulldogs’ push for back-to-back Final Fours.

Here’s what you need to know:

MORE MCCOWAN: Mississippi State’s center has been close to perfection this season, going 12 of 13 from the field in a win over rival Ole Miss. But her 11-for-11 night in the regional semifinals matched the record for NCAA Tournament perfection set by Terry Carmichael of Saint Joseph’s in a 1985 first-round game against, oddly enough, North Carolina State.

MCCOWAN ISN’T ALONE: Victoria Vivians had 14 points and Morgan William had 13 in the win over the Wolfpack, helping give the Bulldogs four double-digit scorers. That kind of balance is hard to beat.

LONG TIME COMING: Close and her counterpart, Vic Schaefer, have something in common in that both coaches spent years as assistants before getting head coaching jobs. Close spent nearly two decades on the bench at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, her alma mater, while Schaefer coached for years under Gary Blair at Texas A&M.

“Myself, Cori, Vic, our journey has been similar in that we were long-time assistants for iconic coaches, really,” said Texas coach Karen Aston, who learned under the Longhorns’ Jody Conradt and Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, among others. “We’ve kind of grown up in the profession together.”

THE OTHER TITLE: While the Bruins are still seeking their first Final Four in the NCAA Tournament era, they do have a national title on their resume. That was won in 1978, during the AIWA years.

FAMILIAR FOES: UCLA and Mississippi State have never played in women’s basketball, but they do have some familiarity. The teams played a closed scrimmage prior to last season.

“In this tournament, you can’t afford to have a bad day. You can’t miss a hedge on a ball screen, go under on a shooter,” Schaefer said.

“Our kids are dialed in. They have been all year. As much as I want to worry about them and worry about whether we’re ready or not, they have not let me down once.”