Women Advance to Semifinals

The West Virginia University women's basketball game clinched its first-ever berth into the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament Sunday evening as they upset the third-seeded Villanova Wildcats, 58-47 in Hartford.

The win almost assuredly clinches a berth in the NCAA tournament for the Mountaineers, and, just as importantly, keeps the dreams for a Cinderella Big East Champion alive at least for another evening.

The Mountaineers carried their newly re-discovered defensive momentum over into the game against Villanova, which proved to be the big difference in avenging a loss to the Wildcats that occurred on February 16. While the normal offensive stalwarts struggled for WVU, the defense stepped up to the challenge and Michelle Carter provided the spark needed on both ends of the court to carry WVU to the historic victory.

The first half of the game was played to the typical Villanova motion tempo: slow, patient, and consistent. The problem for Villanova was, the consistency wasn't there. West Virginia's defense stifled Villanova's outside game. What usually is a storm of three-pointers for the Wildcats was transformed by West Virginia into barely a sprinkle: VU only got a pair of three's in the half, and those were from upstart Betsy McManus, who came off the bench to score a career-high ten points in the half. McManus, who averages about two points per game, was the only offense Villanova could muster. The Wildcats shot 12-27 overall, and just 2-9 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.

Despite that fact, West Virginia still trailed 26-23 at the half. The Mountaineers themselves were caught up in the sloth that is Villanova's tempo. Kate Bulger and Carter each scored six to lead WVU during the half, as the Mountaineers struggled from the field, shooting 11-25 from the field and not hitting any three-pointers. The Mountaineers did lead Villanova on the boards, but the big difference was in turnovers. WVU committed eight turnovers for the half, while the Wildcats only had three.

The second half started much like the first, and the game was played to a 32-32 tie at 15:24. At that point, Yolanda Paige and Michelle Carter began to take over the game. WVU exploded, forcing its quick, cat-like tempo on the Wildcats, and went on a 14-2 run over the next eight minutes to take a 46-34 lead at the 7:37 timeout. Villanova got frustrated - their style of play is to lead the game, and stall the other team. They simply do not have an offense capable of hurrying up and playing from behind. A 5-0 run closed the game to 46-39, but that was as close as the game would get. The partisan UConn crowd came to its feet for the Mountaineers as time expired, and WVU escaped with the 11-point victory over the defending champions of the Big East Conference.

West Virginia's game MVP was Michelle Carter, who scored a double-double by shooting 6-7 from the field for 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Carter truly was the difference as Villanova's defensive strength was in stopping the perimeter shooters for WVU. They were successful in doing do, but WVU's ability to penetrate inside the paint stunned the Wildcats. Yolanda Paige was the leading scorer for the Mountaineers, though, as she scored 16 on 6-16 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Janell Dunlap helped out on the inside as well with ten points and eight rebounds. Kate Bulger and Sherell Sowho each scored seven, and Meg Bulger tossed in three.

Villanova was led by McManus, with 14 points on 4-7 shooting.

West Virginia advances to 21-9 on the season and will face Rutgers Monday night at 8:00 p.m. in the second semifinal game of the tournament. The winner of that game will face the winner of the UConn-Boston College match to be played at 6pm.

The win almost assures WVU of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as well. The big East could place as many as eight teams in the field of 64.

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