Women Fall To UConn

Wrapping up their best season in five years, the West Virginia women's basketball team had a lot to be proud of going into tonight's finale against the number one ranked University of Connecticut Huskies at the WVU Coliseum.

They lost the game this evening, just another victim in the way of UConn's freight train to the Final Four, but they certainly had nothing to hang their heads about. The Mountaineers played tight early, but ran out of gas in the second half and fell to the Huskies by a score of 89-60.

To the untrained eye, a score of 89-60 may not look like much to brag about. But, consider the following. West Virginia jumped to an early lead in this game at 9-5, and managed to hold that lead for most of the first nine minutes of the game. This put them in the books as only the 12th opponent to hold a lead over the Huskies this year. The Mountaineers only let the UConn lead get beyond ten once in the first half, a deficit of 13 with about three minutes left.

When the game did get away from West Virginia in the second half, the Mountaineers "held" the Huskies to their scoring average of 88 points while losing by "only" 29, 11 points less than the average UConn opponent. All of this was accomplished while the Mountaineers only had six players get any significatn amount of playing time.

Finally, the point total of 60 for West Virginia is just two points less than the past two meetings against UConn COMBINED, when the Mountaineers lost 100-28 in 2000 and 97-34 in 2001. I think that stat alone would qualify as a nomination for Mike Carey to be Big East Coach of the Year, with a very young (and definitely NOT deep) squad.

The Huskies scored the first strike in the game, an easy jumper by Diana Taurasi to make the score 2-0. But West Virginia was not intimidated. Sherell Sowho, not one to be intimidated by the biggest, baddest teams, answered with four points of her own to make the score 4-2. Taurasi responded with a three, her 69th of the season (second in the conference to Kate Bulger) to make the score 5-4.

Bulger wasn't about to let her lead go away, nailing her 72nd trey after a Mary Grace Carson jumper to make the score 9-5. The game had all the marks of excitement early, the two teams going back and forth, with the Mountaineers using a hot-shooting offense to counter that of the Huskies. Swin Cash came on after the second official timeout at 11:43, helping make a small UConn run that would break a 14-14 tie and put the Huskies up 26-20 going into the third official timeout at 7:57.

From there, the Mountaineers came back, closing to within two at 29-27, but UConn would not be denied. A 5-0 spurt followed up with a 9-0 spurt put the score at 43-30. Sherell Sowho and Yolanda Paige scored the final four of the half, putting the margin under 10 at 43-34.

The stats were impressive at the half. West Virginia shot 48% from the field, 12-25, compared to UConn's 50%, 16-32. The three-pointers were outstanding, West Virginia hitting 65% (5-8) to UConn's 46% (6-13). The big difference, as usual, was turnovers. West Virginia had 13 to UConn's eight. Free throws made were even at five, though West Virginia had four more chances at the line.

In the second half, it was clearly evident that the athleticism and depth of the Huskies would be too much for the Mountaineers. They appeared out of gas early as UConn's rebounding edge jumped to 28-18, while the Mountaineers struggled on offense with early turnovers and few shot opportunities. The Huskies played great 'D', forcing most Mountaineer shots to be hurried late with fewer than ten seconds on the shot clock. The Huskies extended their lead to 16 before West Virginia got its first basket, by Yolanda Paige, to make the score 50-36.

As Paige woke up, the Mountaineers found another little burst of energy. They were actually able to close the game to within 12 at 60-48 before the Huskies took off. UConn hit its first big run of the game at 18-0 to extend the lead to 78-48. Luckily, this was the worst deficit for the Mountaineers all night. It looked as if they might put the game within 20 with a late 9-2 run, but reserves Jessica Moore and Ashley Battle had the last laughs, putting the game away at 89-60.

The big difference makers in this game were rebounds and turnovers. UConn crashed the boards better by a margin of 42-28, and the Mountaineers turned the ball over 21 times to UConn's 10 (eight of those in the first half) which allowed the Huskies to shoot 22 more times (and make 12 more baskets) than the Mountaineers, although the percentages were nearly even at 48% to 45% in favor of the Huskies.

Sherell Sowho made her case for the Big East all-rookie team by scoring a game-high 22 points on 6-12 shooting, 4-7 from beyond the arc. Yolanda Paige scored six in the first half and burst to life with 12 in the second for a total of 18 on 8-13 shooting. Brandi Batch, in her final game at the Coliseum, was the only other Mountaineer in double digits, with 10 points and five rebounds (the team high). Interestingly, and almost fittingly for this season, the senior Batch came off the bench on Senior Night.

Kate Bulger scored a pair of threes in the first half and was shut down in the second for a total of six. For the record, she closes out the regular season beating Taurasi as the leading three-point shooter in the conference, a margin of 73-71. Eartha White and Mary Grace Carson scored two each. The other Mountaineer senior, Alisha Bogan, was unable to get on the scoreboard in very limited action.

Connecticut put six players in double digits, all of them led by Asjha Jones, who scored 17 points on 8-14 shooting, grabbing six boards. Swin Cash pulled down a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Maria Conlon, whose career-high of 16 points was against West Virginia last year, scored 14 off the bench on 5-9 shooting, 4-7 from three-point range.

Diana Taurasi scored 11 in the first but was shut down in the second, a finaly tally of 11 points on 4-14 shooting with eight assists. Jessica Moore was perfect, going 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from the line for 11. Probable Naismith winner Sue Bird scored 10. Ashley Battle and Tamika Williams rounded out the scorers with six and four respectively.

What else can I say? It's been a good season, with ups and downs, and a loss isn't a good way to end, but we're talking UConn here. They're now 30-0 (15-0), their third perfect regular season, probably destined for a national title.

West Virginia, on the other hand, is just getting its feet back on the ground with a new coach and young team. We've got the leading scorer in the conference, two of the best rookies, and a winning record at 14-13. It's been a good ride, and I can only hope #10 seed West Virginia grabs at least one more victory on Saturday when they face #7 seed Syracuse at 6:00 p.m. in the Big East Conference tournament at Rutgers.

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