In 2005, the men's team suffered an agonizing loss to Louisville after leading the Cardinals by 20 points -- a defeat that kept West Virginia from making a Final Four appearance. On Monday night, it was the women's team's turn to give away a lead, as it frittered away an eight-point advantage and collapsed down the stretch in a 64-46 loss to Vanderbilt. The win sent the Commodores on to the Sweet 16 and ended the WVU careers of Meg Bulger, Yinka Sanni and Chakhia Cole -- three of the best players in Mountaineer history.
Despite rallying from an early 9-2 deficit, West Virginia was never able to get untracked against the sticky, shifting Vandy defense. The Mountaineers shot just 29% from the field for the game, and were unable to make much headway inside against their SEC foe. Sanni was again saddled with early foul trouble, and spent more than half of the opening 20 minutes on the bench, and it was only the shooting of Bulger, who had 11 points in the stanza, that kept the Mountaineers in the game in the first half. However, the Commodores clamped down on Bulger in the second half, limiting her to a single floating two-pointer.
Vanderbilt, in the meantime, rode the shooting of Christina Wirth, who finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, and the interior strength of center Liz Sherwood to turn the game into a laugher down the stretch. Vanderbilt crushed West Virginia on the boards by a 40-22 margin, and limited the Mountaineers to only a handful of good looks on offense. And when the three-pointers stopped falling (WVU hit four in a short stretch of the first half to take the lead), WVU was left with few other offensive options.
Sherwod had eight rebounds, while Wirth and Jennifer Risper added seven to fuel the rebounding onslaught.
Vandy also shot well against a visibly tired West Virginia defense. The Commodores made 54% of their tries, and wee a blistering 8-17 from three-point range. Meanwhile, WVU could just manage just 6-18 from distance, with Bulger accounting for half of those.
Vanderbilt did a solid job of clamping down on Sanni, often dropping a second defender out of its zone to limit her ability to move in the post after catching the ball. That led to a handful of forced shots and few good opportunities, and was the primary contributor to WVU's shooting woes and low point total.
Despite WVU's woes, the Mountaineers trailed by just three, at 41-38, with just under 13 minutes to play, but the Commodores took over at that point, outscoring West Virginia 23-8 down the stretch.
As the game wound down, head coach Mike Carey removed his seniors for one last time, but it certainly wasn't the end they envisioned. The senior-dominated squad had high hopes of making a deep run into the tournament, but despite recording 25 wins, the Mountaineers stumbled down the stretch. WVU was 3-4 over its last seven games, and rarely displayed the team unity and togetherness that would be expected of a squad featuring seven seniors.
Sanni led WVU with 14 points, while Bulger added 13 and LaQuita Owens 10. The Mountaineers got next to no production from the bench, as Lateefah Joye scored two points to account for WVU's total. Meanwhile, Vandy's subs totalled 20.