The first half was played rather evenly although Syracuse never managed to lead at any time during the game. WVU led by as much as nine with six minutes remaining in the first half, that coming at 21-12 on a Janell Dunlap field goal that followed Kate Bulger's only field goal of the half. Bulger started the game 0-5, but her hoop and Dunlap's gave West Virginia their biggest lead of the opening period.
Syracuse was quick to close the game back to within six, and both teams exchanged baskets from that point to put WVU in front 25-19 at halftime. WVU didn't slump so much as it just played down to the Orangwomen's tempo - the Mountaineers still managed to shoot 44% for the half and they out-rebounded the Orange by a margin of 18-14. But the real factor that put the half in favor of West Virginia was the defense. Mike Carey's troops held Julie McBride, a senior poised to become Syracuse's all-time leading scorer, to two points on 1-3 shooting. Chineze Nwagbo, who has torn up the Mountaineers every time she has faced them, was held to four points on 2-5 shooting.
The second half opened with a Mountaineer run, but not quite the run that has been so typical during this winning streak. The lead was extended to 31-19 on a 6-0 run before Lauren Kohn responded with four straight to make the score 31-23. Syracuse only managed to pull the game within seven before Meg Bulger came alive with five straight points to put the Mountaineers into a permanent double-digit lead at 38-28. The defense for West Virginia held, and held tight, limiting McBride to two and Nwagbo to one for the half and WVU pulled away slowly to the 56-36 victory.
It was nice to see the defense come through so well for West Virginia, proving the Mountaineers aren't just a shooting team this year. In addition to the key points of shutting down Nwagbo and McBride, WVU held all Syracuse scorers under ten points, with Kohn leading the way with nine on 4-11 shooting. For the first time in 171 games, a streak dating back to 1998, Syracuse was held to ZERO three-point field goals in a game.
On the offensive side for WVU, Sherell Sowho led the way for the second straight game with 13 points on 6-9 shooting. Yolanda Paige was close behind, scoring 12 points on 6-13 shooting and dishing out a below-average five assists, mostly because the transition game she thrives on was slowed.
Michelle Carter made a nice contribution inside with 10 points on 3-5 shooting, and freshman Meg led the Bulger sisters with eight points on 3-8 shooting while also grabbing seven rebounds. Those stats will probably snap Meg's streak of winning the Big East Rookie of the Week award, but all good runs must come to an end sometime, and she should remain the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year honor. Kate managed to score seven despite a dismal 3-12 night from the field. Latitia Williams scored four and grabbed six rebounds in a nice effort off the bench, and Dunlap had two.
West Virginia improves to 17-5, 8-2 in Big East conference play. The win secures at least a .500 regular season conference record for West Virginia, the first time since 1996-97, and brings the Mountaineers to within one game of tying the 1996-97 team for the most regular season wins in the past decade. That's not bad for a team with six games remaining.
But, make no mistake, none of the games from here on out will be easy ones. Each of WVU's last six opponents are in the RPI top-25 and were in the top-25 of at least one poll during some part of the season. It all starts with a key game this Tuesday at home against #21 Virginia Tech, a team that WVU came just short of beating on two occasions last season.