WVU was just biding its time in the early part of the game. Sherell Sowho, Janell Dunlap, Michelle Carter, and Meg Bulger each got on the board to give the Mountaineers a 13-5 lead seven minutes into the game. At about 12:30, Brooke Hughes nailed a three to cut the lead to 13-8. But, as the clock wound, the Mountaineer time bomb again went off on its typical schedule, detonated with a basket by Meg Bulger. The run went for the next 4:30 and finished at 12-0 to give WVU a 25-8 lead at 7:57, with Meg scoring seven points on 3-3 shooting during the run. The best Pitt could do from that point was close the lead to 25-11 with 7:39 to go on a conventional three-point play by Jennifer Brown. WVU took a 39-21 lead into the half and looked to be running away.
After an exciting first half which saw the Mountaineers explode on offense with 50% shooting to take an 18 point lead into the locker room, the game turned into a defensive battle, something that West Virginia hasn't quite had a good handle on this season, especially when being outnumbered on the bench against a bigger team, like the Panthers. But, WVU more than rose to the occasion on their visit to the Steel City. While Pitt got a better handle on its own defense (or perhaps WVU just had a trademark second half slump, well, I guess it's not a slump if you still outscore your opponent 17-15, it's just a "pitching duel"), limiting the Mountaineers 21% shooting (7-34) in the second half, the blue and gold shut down Pitt all day. West Virginia held the Panthers to 27% shooting for the game (14-52) and crashed the boards on both ends of the court to come up with a total of 52 rebounds to Pitt's 34. The Mountaineers also racked up an astonishing 21 rebounds on the offensive glass.
Meg Bulger and Sherell Sowho each led West Virginia with 13 points. Sherell shot 4-9 from the field and grabbed eight rebounds, while Meg shot 5-8 and had seven boards. Michelle Carter and Janell Dunlap each had great efforts on the inside, both hitting four baskets for eight points apiece, Dunlap leading the Mountaineers with nine rebounds and Carter grabbing seven.
Kate Bulger struggled from the field to finish the game with 3-16 shooting and seven points, but more than made up for that with her rebounding, outdoing her sister by one with eight. Yolanda Paige also struggled from the field, shooting 2-12 for six points and grabbing five rebounds. Still, Yolanda helped her 2nd-nationally assist average of 7.9 per game by dishing out 11 on the day - perhaps she would have had more, but Yolanda only saw 39 minutes of action (hint of sarcasm)! Paige actually got to rest for a minute midway through the second half when the game was well in hand. Last but not least, Kate Glusko scored a point in another good 13 minutes off the bench.
In my opinion, West Virginia is on a high in this win streak that hasn't been seen around these parts since 1996, but I'm not sure I can say that team had as much character as this one seems to be building. Undoubtedly, the 1996 team, which wound up with 19 wins, 12 in conference, was remarkable in its own right. But that team did not have two players, one being the only other true point guard on the squad, defect early in the season. Nor did it have two big post players, seen as key entering the season, fall out early with injuries, trimming the squad to seven players. And that team, I recall, didn't have to contend with off the court incidents involving two other key players.
It's still early in the conference season, and there's still eight HUGE games left to play, but I'd challenge anyone to find a team that has gone through as much this season as our Mountaineers and come as far as they have to this point. As of Saturday evening WVU is tied for second in the conference, and has a win over the Notre Dame team they are tied with. It's a tribute to Mike Carey, his staff, and especially his players - truly the "iron women" of the Big East conference this year.
Unlike a Notre Dame team I recall from a few years ago (which does happen to be one of my favorite all-time non-WVU teams), I don't think WVU's "not-so-short" short bench will likely be suiting up one of the equipment managers anytime soon (knocking on wood).
Speaking of standings, West Virginia advances to 15-5, 6-2 in conference play. The 15 wins tie last year's total, and the six conference wins tie the 2001-2002 season as the most for Coach Mike Carey. The next week will prove to be critical, as the Mountaineers travel to Providence on Wednesday and then return home to face Syracuse on Saturday. How big are these two games? Not only are they the last two teams that WVU will play in the regular season with losing records, they are the last two teams that WVU will play in the regular season that AREN'T ranked in the top-20 of this past week's RPI ratings. These two games may go a long way in determining whether WVU plays somewhere in March or gets sent home to watch the others on TV.