No. 11 WVU Rips 18th-ranked Pitt

West Virginia continued to claw into position to capture its first Big East title by beating No. 18 Pitt 56-35 Wednesday.

The No. 11 Mountaineers, tied atop the league standings with No. 2 Connecticut and No. 4 Rutgers, blew out its rival with stifling defense and an opportunistic offense for its ninth straight win. Yinka Sanni scored 17 points and Meg Bulger added 14, including a pair of 3-pointers in a 16-2 run to open the second half as West Virginia (20-3, 9-1 Big East) romped to its third win over a top 15 team in as many chances.

"We still can't live on 20 wins," WVU head coach Mike Carey said. "The NCAA looks at finishing strong. We have to finish strong and get a couple on the road."

The Mountaineers certainly defended the home court. They have beaten Notre Dame and Rutgers among its 16 straight wins there. This, however, was arguably its most impressive defensive display. Pitt was held to its worst performance of the season on 12-of-53 shooting, including misses on 23 of its first 25 shots. It was the Panthers' lowest score in seven years, and their 13 first half points marked the only time in the last four years it has been held to less than 15 in half.

"We did not perform or execute on offense," Pitt head coach Agnus Berenato said. "They really hurt us with 20 turnovers and pushed up on us defensively. We were not prepared to handle that. They are a pleasure to watch – but not to play."

Bulger, just two games into a late comeback bid after spraining her knee in midseason, nailed a game-best four 3-pointers. She hit two in the first half 16-2 run, ending a stretch in which both teams combined to make only two of 25 field goals. After Bulger's three, West Virginia connected on consecutive hoops, then got another three from the former All-American and two free throws to lead 20-4 on the way to a 25-13 edge at the break.

The Panthers (18-5, 8-2) eventually trailed by as many as 26, that coming on LaQuita Owens' 3-pointer midway through the second half to end another run with a 41-15 lead that put the game away with more than 13 minutes left.

Pitt, led by Ashleigh Braxton's 13 points, never got closer than 20 afterward in losing for the third time in four games. The skid comes in the midst of playing four Top 25 teams in five games. Shavonte Zellous, the Big East's second-leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, scored just six.

"We put so much pressure on their point guard that they could not get the offense going," Bulger said. "Right now we are riding high, but we can't get too excited because we could be on the other end."

It was the first time in 36 Backyard Brawl meetings that both teams were ranked. West Virginia, winners 20 games for the fourth time in five years, holds its highest ranking in school history.

"We just beat a ranked team by 21 points and we are not that excited," Carey said. "We are now expected to do that."

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