Red Stick Stunner

The wall between West Virginia and a Sweet 16 berth held fast on Tuesday evening as the Mountaineers were upset by LSU in the second round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament

WVU, looking for its second-ever spot in the round of 16, was knocked off by the Tigers 76-67 on their home court in Baton Rouge. The loss was a bitter one for the Mountaineers, who fell to 0-8 all time in attempts to advance to the Sweet 16 with the current tournament format. West Virginia did advance to the Sweet 16 in 1992, when it defeated Clemson 73-72 in the second round after a first-round bye when the field was 48 teams.

WVU (30-5) got off to a slow start in both halves, and trailed by as many as eight points in the opening minutes. Down 19-12, the Mountaineers pieced together a 15-4 run, taking the lead at 27-23 on the strength of five points from Christal Caldwell. Just when it appeared that West Virginia would take, control, however, LSU responded with a late flurry to take a 37-35 lead into the locker room.

The Tigers (21-12) built much of that advantage from the free throw line, where they were a perfect 12-12 in the first half. They were also stingy defensively for most of the first 20 minutes, employing a 2-3 zone with the wings pushed up and out to challenge the Mountaineers on the perimeter. WVU missed its first seven attempts from distance before hitting from beyond the arc, and were also stymied inside, as LSU blocked seven shots in the opening 20 minutes.

In the second half, WVU made a determined attempt to get Asya Bussie involved, and the senior responded beautifully after being held to just two points in the first half while spending much of the period on the bench saddled with two fouls. After the Tigers again got off to a hot start with a 9-2 opening stretch, the Mountaineer center scored 14 of West Virginia's next 21 points to give her team a 57-50 advantage. That was part of a 20-4 WVU run that once again appeared to put the Mountaineers in control of the contest.

The teams then traded baskets until the 5:05 mark, when a seemingly innocuous play appeared to turn the tide. With Bussie on the line, where she had made 13 of her 15 attempts, WVU was called for a lane violation, negating another successful shot from the Mountaineer center. While the Mountaineers still led 63-56, the play signaled a turning point in the game. From that point, LSU closed the game on a 20-4 run, turning what appeared to be a breakthrough win for the Mountaineers into another heartbreak.

Bussie led the WVU attack with 21 points, but didn't receive the ball inside during the final few minutes of the game as she had during much of the second half. That allowed LSU bigs Shanece McKinne and Theresa Plaisance, both of whom had four fouls, to remain in the game without stress. Their presence was big down the stretch, as they combined for 16 rebounds (12 on the offensive end), to counter Bussie's nine.

Bria Holmes had 12 points and Christal Caldwell ten, while Averee Fields added with rebounds. LSU guard Danielle Ballard recorded a double-double with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

West Virginia's shooting also played a large part in the early exit. WVU made just 30% of its tries for the field, including a cold 5-22 from three point range. The Mountaineers were outrebounded 55-40 and had nine shots blocked in the loss.

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