Saturday's game proved to be the most difficult to corral in the current winning streak. Though entering the game at 6-9 and sharing a short-bench situation for similar to WVU's, the Orangewomen did boast a 3-2 conference record, with a win over perennial conference contender Rutgers already under their belt. Senior Julie McBride entered the game closing in on Syracuse's all-time career scoring record, and center Chineze Nwagbo has always proven to be a thorn in WVU's side. Toss in an enthusiastic crowd at Manley Field House and some hot hands from WVU, and you've got a mixture for an exciting basketball game.
Kate Bulger started things off for West Virginia with a three-point basket less than a minute into the game to make the score 3-0. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, that would be the sum of the game for the elder sister as she was forced to the bench early with two personal fouls.
Syracuse built an 8-3 lead before any other Mountaineers found their shooting touch, but, when they did find that touch, three-pointers rained down on the inside of the building as the snow continued to fall on the outside. Yolanda Paige and Sherell Sowho nailed a pair of treys to make the score 9-8. Julie McBride later got in the act to pull the game back into Syracuse's favor at 13-9, which is about the time the game took its first big turn for WVU.
Michelle Carter became another early victim of fouls, being sent to the bench with two and substituted for by Meg Bulger. Meg came out very much like she has in the past couple of weeks: on fire. Meg scored five straight points to put WVU back up 14-13. She would be the only player on the board for WVU for the next seven minutes with ten points, save for a field goal by Kate Glusko, who was filling in for Kate Bulger.
WVU was up 21-19 when their trademark run kicked in with 8:15 to go. Starting with Meg's tenth point, the Gold and Blue went on a 12-0 run to take a 31-19 lead. Syracuse responded quickly with three-pointers by Sarah Wegrzynowicz and Rochelle Coleman, but the Mountaineers went into the locker room with the momentum and a 39-29 lead.
Another Mountaineer trademark for the past few weeks has been a loss of momentum in the locker room at halftime. Coach Carey should really consider keeping the Mountaineers on the court and shooting around during the half. This time, Syracuse opened the second half with a 12-4 run to close the game to within two points, 43-42, with 14:15 left. The Mountaineers managed to wake up for a minute or two, pulling the lead back to eight in the next three minutes, but Syracuse would not go away from the sleepwalking Mountaineers. Another run closed the game to 54-52, which finally provided the wakeup call and coffee for WVU. Michelle Carter took control of the inside in the final four minutes, and the Mountaineers pulled away to the 12 point win.
I sense another Big East Freshman of the Week award. How could Meg Bulger not get it? After banging around the Thundering Herd on Wednesday, Meg scored her first career double-double with a career-high 18 points and ten rebounds off the bench. Speaking of awards, how about Yolanda Paige? "Weezy", third in the nation in assists as of Tuesday, got another double-figure scoring effort in today with 13 points and nine assists on 6-10 shooting. Her performance combined with her endurance should be enough of a case for the Nancy Lieberman Award for the nation's best point guard, if current trends continue. Paige hasn't missed a minute in ANY game since Ashley Dunn left in December.
Sherell Sowho was the other Mountaineer in double figures, scoring 14 on 5-14 shooting. Michelle Carter finished with eight, all of those coming in the final five minutes of the game. Arguably, though, the most valuable performance may have come from Kate Glusko.
While Kate saw significant action against Notre Dame, she was barely seen in Charleston on Wednesday. But that didn't stop her from coming in the game to spell Kate Bulger in the first half, and fill her shoes well she did - Kate scored seven points in the first half, which was her total for the game. Janell Dunlap endured Chineze Nwagbo and wound up with four, but her best performance was keeping Julie McBride's offense stifled at the end of the game. Kate Bulger scored three, and Latitia Williams scored two.
This game started a very critical stretch run for the Mountaineers in the coming weeks. WVU returns home Wednesday to face a Georgetown team that has always been tough to beat, and then has games at Pitt and Providence before a return matchup with Syracuse, all very winnable games, followed by a home match with another power team, Virginia Tech.
The Mountaineers currently sit at 13-5, 4-2 in conference play. I dread talking postseason this early, but winning the very winnable games at Pitt and Providence and home against Syracuse, and stealing at least one of the other two would put the Mountaineers with at least 17 wins, a very good position at least for a WNIT berth. The key to those games, as usual, will be the bench and whether or not WVU can cure their second half blues.