Going into the game, Mike Carey knew it was going to be an uphill battle. His team would have to make some big changes in order to have a chance against the emerging Big East power. The Mountaineers average 18 turnovers a game and are very inconsistent with inside scoring. Against the larger Hokies, inside scoring would probably be more difficult, putting an added emphasis on the reliable outside shooters. In addition, the defense would have to come up big once again, hopefully holding Tech under 70 to better the odds. Teams that beat Tech generally score 65-plus points.
The goals were nearly achieved. The turnovers were held to a season-low 12. The defense came through, keeping Tech to 67 points (65 discounting late free-throws). The post-players managed 20 points, a little bit above average, and the outside game was still there.
The Mountaineers jumped out to a quick lead, something very unusual in its Big East games this year. Trading baskets early and leading 7-5 on perfect shooting, the Mountaineers used 67% shooting in the stretch leading to the second official timeout to keep the game within one at 15-14 Tech. Soon after that, it began to look like a typical Mountaineer start, just reversed.
The Hokies went on an 11-2 run to take the lead by nine with 4:30 left in the half while WVU's shooting went to 33%. But, again reverting to form, West Virginia went on a run of its own, keyed by seven points from Sherell Sowho to close back to within five. Again, things began to look familiar as Tech stretched it back out to a 38-27 halftime lead.
The second half saw another comeback which is quickly becoming the Mountaineer style. Kate Bulger warmed up to the rims, keying the first comeback which would close the score to 51-49 near the seven minute mark. Naturally, Virginia Tech went on another 8-0 run at that point to make it a 10 point game with five minutes left. It wasn't until the 3:44 mark when WVU would score again, a Sherell Sowho field goal to make the score 59-51.
What is it with Sowho sparking these comebacks? She scored four points in an 11-0 run to give WVU its first lead in the second half at 60-59. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, though, the inside strength of the Hokies was too much to stop this evening, with Tech pulling away to the 67-62 victory.
So, what happened? There were missed opportunities off of Tech turnovers, with the Mountaineers giving the ball right back on bad passes and missed cuts. But, more than anything else, West Virginia lost the free-throw advantage it had in its past two wins. Using their size and strength to draw the fouls on the smaller Mountaineer team, Tech went 15 of 18 from the charity stripe, while WVU only managed four of seven, in what, admittedly, was a very physical game with relatively few fouls called on either side.
West Virginia was led this evening by Sherell Sowho, the second straight game where she made a huge contribution, going 8-15 from the field for 18 points and seven rebounds. She was followed with a strong performance by Eartha White, who scored a career-high 14 points on 7-12 shooting, pulling down eight rebounds. Kate Bulger's average fell a bit this evening as she scored 12 points on 5-12 shooting. Not bad by any means, but her 18+ average very well could have been the difference. The defense was tough on her, seeing how she only got 12 shots off.
Yolanda Paige scored eight for the Mountaineers. Paige, while having a very poor night from the field, pulled down nine rebounds and dished nine assists. Brandi Batch had six, and Mary Grace Carson scored four. For the first time in a few games, Zsophia Horvath came off the bench, but one minute is not quite enough time to remove her face from the milk carton.
Virginia Tech was led by Chrystal Starling, who scored 19 points on 5-8 shooting and a critical 7-8 from the line, in only 19 minutes of playing time. Ieva Kublina was especially difficult to stop on the inside, the Latvian scoring 16 on 7-18 shooting. Kublina blocked an awesome seven shotsNicole Jones had 12, Hokie leader Sarah Hicks scored 10, Ering Gibson had six, and Emily Lipton had four.
Once again, rebounds were a big difference for West Virginia. The Mountaineers held a 33-27 rebounding edge, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds to Virginia Tech's seven. That allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 14 more times than the Hokies, though the Hokies shot better 47% to 41%.
I hope the only thing atypical about this game from here on out is the loss. West Virginia put forth probably its best effort since a hard-fought loss at the University of Virginia in 1997, or perhaps a near-upset of UConn in the second round of the Big East Tournament in 1998.
The slow starts and turnovers, despite the ability of the comeback kids, have been a major liability in losses this season. This was certainly a growing experience, and it's safe to say that the Mountaineers will be better for it the next time a match with the Hokies rolls around.
West Virginia falls to 9-6 (2-3) and will face the Pitt Panthers Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum. Virginia Tech advances to 14-2 (5-0) to face St. John's at home on Saturday.