Women Break Skid, Down St. John's

A change, they say, can do one good.

For the West Virginia women's basketball team, that was readily apparent on Saturday. For starters, it was a change in scenery. Certainly not my favorite place, New York is one of the most spectacular cities in the world, vastly different from Morgantown (of course), and the other cities of the Big East.

Next, it was a change of competition. The St. John's University Red Storm sat at the bottom of the Big East conference, with a 3-17 record, 0-9 in conference. Coming off big losses to Villanova and Boston College, the Mountaineers were certainly ready to face what should be lighter competition from a program trying to get back on its feet.

Lastly, but not least, there was a change in the starting lineup. Mary Grace Carson took to the bench Saturday, replaced by Brandi Batch, who had voluntarily benched herself earlier in the season in an effort to improve her game.

The combination of the three worked. The Mountaineers, led by Batch and Kate Bulger, overcame a late first-half cold snap to blow away the Red Storm by a score of 69-47.

Early on, it looked like a cake walk. West Virginia jumped to a 15+ point edge as the Red Storm struggled on defense, putting starters Amanda Rawson and Shemika Stevens on the bench with early personal fouls. However, the Mountaineer shooting went to a cold 28% before the half, and the freshman New Cumberland, WV native Mary Pat Statler lit up the blue defense with some hot shooting beyond the arc. The Red Storm was able to close the gap at halftime to 31-28.

Thankfully, it turned out just to be a typical first half for West Virginia. Bulger warmed up, sinking five three-pointers, Batch took control of the inside, and the overwhelming speed of West Virginia's defense stifled the Storm with a press as the Mountaineers used a 17-5 run to open up the half and run away to the 69-47 victory.

As I said, a change did the Mountaineers good. This was probably the best game I've ever seen Brandi Batch play. She's had her double-double performances before, but I've never seen her so in control of herself and her surroundings. That's the senior leadership that she showed at Duquesne earlier this year and it helped bring up the rest of her team again. The only negative she had was a supposed struggle from the free throw line. Batch "only" made 3-6 from the charity stripe.

The Mountaineers were led, as can be expected, by Kate Bulger, scoring 22 point on 7-17 shooting (5-9 from three-point range). Batch scored the double-double, scoring 19 points on 8-16 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. An apparent struggle for Eartha White came out OK in the end as she scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Mary Grace Carson was productive off the bench, scoring seven points and snaring five boards. Sherell Sowho struggled mightily, not scoring until there were less than two minutes left in the game. She wound up with six. Alisha Bogan came off the bench for four, and Jess Fisher nailed a sweet three. Everybody got to play for the Mountaineers, and it's worth noting that while Yolanda Paige didn't score, she grabbed six rebounds and dished seven assists.

St. John's was led, almost appropriately, by Mary Pat Statler. Statler scored 17 points on 4-9 shooting (3-6 from beyond the arc and 6-8 from the free throw line). She was followed by Amanda Rawson, who scored ten. Nora Gyuris had seven, Shemika Stevens had five, Patrycja Gulak and Kenyawna Hudgens had four each.

West Virginia advances to 12-8 with a conference mark of 4-5. The 12 wins eclipse the total of the past two seasons, and tie Mike Carey for the number of wins for a first-year Mountaineer coach with Scott Harrelson, Susan Walvius and Alexis Basil, who each led the Mountaineers to 12-16, 12-15 and 12-16 marks, respectively, in their first years.

WVU now returns home for a key matchup against Georgetown. With seven games left and a probable Big East tournament bid, Carey stands a good chance of eclipsing those marks. The Mountaineers have only beaten the Hoyas once since joining the conference.

St. John's falls to 3-17 (0-10), and face Providence at home Wednesday. The Red Storm drew a nice and extremely vocal crowd on Saturday, and one can only hope they're able to reverse their fortunes in the near future.

I love New York!

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