The win marks Mike Carey's first in Big East play, and his 296th overall as a college coach.
Going into the game, the Mountaineers knew it certainly wasn't going to be easy. The Hurricanes were off to their best start since the 1991-92 season at 9-4. They were fresh off a big win this past Saturday over Rutgers. West Virginia had already lost to Miami this season, 69-53 in Miami. If that's not bad enough, they were 1-11 all-time against the Hurricanes, the only win coming in 1997, a 75-70 win in Morgantown.
All of that changed tonight, except for the easy part. Miami slowly worked its way to an 18-7 lead, taking advantage of horrible early 4% shooting (1-19) for the Mountaineers. As has been the case for a lot of this season, the Mountaineers began to slowly turn things around near the 8:00 mark when Brandi Batch hit a quick two, sparking an 8-0 run that increased the scoring percentage to a woeful but more respectable 22% in the next five minutes. It looked as if the Mountaineers would actually manage to tie this one up at 22-22 for halftime, but that was shot down by a Hutashi Wilson three-pointer as time ran down.
At this point, there realistically wasn't much hope to hold out for the Mountaineers, based on past history if nothing else. Factor in the sub-25% shooting and the use of a six-player rotation, and it seemed sure that the more athletic Hurricanes would wear down West Virginia.
Sure, West Virginia jumped out to their first lead, a 29-27 lead in the first three minutes of the second half. But then, Miami went with a much larger lineup, bringing 6'3"" Martha Bodley off the bench to support Chanivia Broussard on the inside. Broussard tore up the Mountaineers with eight points in the first half. Bodley instantly scored on a 'conventional' three-point play which keyed a 9-0 run and surely spelled doom at the 11:38 point for the still cold-shooting Mountaineers.
But not so fast...West Virginia's defense, keyed by Brandi Batch and Eartha White, combined with the transition game of Sherell Sowho and Yolanda Paige, held the Hurricanes to only two more baskets, while scoring easy buckets in transition on some fast steals. As was the case in the first half, when the Mountaineer defense created the turnovers, their speed took over and ran them right back into the game.
This frustrated the Hurricanes, as it frustrated many lesser teams very early on in the season. The ultimate result was a game-winning run that put West Virginia up 45-43 with 3:33 remaining. Capping Miami's frustration was a three-pointer that went way off target, thrown up quickly, nearly in transition, by Melissa Knight as she nearly fell out of bounds.
West Virginia never looked back. Miami had a chance to get back into the game, down two points and then three at the free throw line, but they were unable to produce.
Meanwhile, West Virginia got their shots at the charity stripe to seal the game, though they started the half 0-5.
What an amazing game. Yolanda Paige and Kate Bulger played all 40 minutes tonight, and Sherell Sowho was on the floor for 36. Combine those numbers with 28% shooting, and I don't think anyone could have ever guessed this would be the outcome. Miami, like any good team would in this situation, outshot WVU at 36%, making more field goals. But, free throws were a huge difference - Miami shot only 14% to West Virginia's 65%, a difference made in 19 points. They only got to the line seven times.
West Virginia grabbed down 52 rebounds to Miami's 39. Steals were even at ten, and WVU managed to keep the turnover ratio within two: 19 to Miami's 17. The Mountaineers were led, once again, by Kate Bulger with 16 points on 6-17 shooting. Kate also pulled down five rebounds. Brandi Batch had an awesome game, scoring ninth career double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. She shot a perfect 8-8 from the foul line. Sherell Sowho rebounded from an 0-8 start to score 15 points on 4-17 shooting, pulling down six rebounds. Yolanda Paige had nine points on 3-8 shooting. Eartha White scored only three but pulled down 11 rebounds.
Alisha Bogan came back for the first time tonight since the Ohio game, playing a couple of minutes near the end of the first half to relieve some worn starters. It's starting to look like I'll have to call up Chico Dairy and have Zsophia Horvath's picture placed on a milk carton, as for some strange reason, she was not called off the bench at all tonight.
Miami was led by Broussard, who scored 14 points on 7-19 shooting. She was followed by Hutashi Wilson, who scored ten on 4-5 shooting, by far the best shooting of anyone on the night. Bodley had nine points and seven rebounds, Sheila James eight. Team lead Meghan Saake was held to six points and six rebounds. Knight had three and Kathryn Fowler rounded out the scoring with two points and six rebounds.
With their first Big East win, West Virginia now looks forward to a very interesting upcoming schedule. On Saturday, the Mountaineers will face a struggling Rutgers team at home before heading out to what should be a tough Virginia Tech game on the 16th. Right now, this season has the potential to go any number of ways, as the conference, aside from Connecticut, does not have any clear-cut top or bottom teams at this point. It's already safe to say that, at 8-5 (1-2), West Virginia has already had a better season than its previous two. That said, it looks like it may be time for things to start to get even better.