Things looked simply spectacular early on for the Mountaineers. Before a season (and several year) high crowd of 2,001 , WVU jumped out to a 12-7 lead seven minutes into the game. Kate Bulger had 11 of those points. After that, the Irish managed to pretty much shut Bulger and 3/4 of the rest of the starting lineup down on offense for the half.
Liz Holbrookpicked up the slack, erupting of the bench after Michelle Carter went out with two early fouls. Holbrook managed to break open the inside and pour in 11 for the half on 5-8 shooting, including a three-pointer which allowed West Virginia to take its first double-digit lead at 29-18 with less than three minutes left.
Notre Dame's inability to slow the Mountaineer offense carried over to the other end of the floor. WVU forced 13 turnovers in the first half, compared to six of their own. It seemed that Notre Dame's hot shots, Jacquline Batteast and Alicia Ratay, couldn't hit anything. Batteast managed six and Ratay only two on a combined 4-14 shooting.
The only player for the Irish that even began to give West Virginia fits was the speedy, elusive freshman Le'Tania Severe, who scored seven on 3-5 shooting. The Irish shot 37% for the half, and, to show nothing worked for them, 20% from the free throw line, where they are normally near the top of the national rankings.
Fortunes took a complete reversal in the locker rooms, however. Despite Kate Bulger draining a three to take a 36-22 lead at the opening of the second half, Notre Dame came alive and the Mountaineers went to sleep, starting with an 8-0 run which closed the gap to 36-30. Notre Dame then expanded the run to 14-2 to tie the score at 38-38 on back-to-back three-pointers by Ratay and Katy Flecky.
West Virginia managed to stave off the Irish rally for another couple of minutes on a three by Bulger and Carter's first filed goal, but Notre Dame took the lead for good as Ratay came alive for another three-pointer to put them ahead for good at 47-45 at the 11:24 mark. While West Virginia managed to stay in the game from there, the Mountaineer chances were pretty much out the window as Liz Holbrook, the only Mountaineer (other than Bulger) to consistently provide serious impact in the game went down with a cramp at the 7:46 mark with WVU trailing 53-49. Holbrook would not return to the game, which caused the West Virginia offense to sputter.
Notre Dame took as much as a 60-62 lead before Carter put in a couple of baskets and Bulger nailed one final three with 38 seconds left to close the gap to 63-59. From there, Notre Dame did what they usually do: hit their free throws (13-14 for the second half, 93%) and sneak out of Morgantown with the victory.
It truly was a tale of two halves. While West Virginia played consistently on offense, shooting 42% for the first and 37% for the second, it was the defense that went away. Notre Dame shot 58% for the second half, and equaled West Virginia with seven turnovers. The Mountaineers were out-rebounded 42-28 for the game, yielding 27 to the Irish defense while only pulling down 15 on defense themselves, most of those in the first half.
Kate Bulger led all scorers tonight with 22 points on 8-22 shooting. It was a remarkable evening for Kate several ways. First, she scored her 1,000th career point on a three-pointer to open the game, and moved past Cindy Winegar into 20th on WVU's all-time scoring list with 1,021. Next, she drained six of ten three point field goals to continue to stay near the top of the nation in percentage. Adding to that, her six were just one shy of an all-time WVU record set by Christie Lambert in 1995. Finally, those six brought her to 167 for her career, just one trey shy of tying Rebecca Burbridge for second on WVU's all-time list.
Liz Holbrook had another very good evening off the bench for the Mountaineers, scoring 15 points on 7-12 shooting in 25 minutes of play. Yolanda Paige scored eight and dished out nine assists, Michelle Carter had six, Eartha White five, Sherell Sowho two and Latitia Williams rounded out WVU with one.
Notre Dame was led by Le'Tania Severe, who shot 6-9 from the field, 8-9 from the free throw line to score 21 points and pull six rebounds. Alicia Ratay came back to score 14 on 5-11 shooting, and Jacqueline Batteast got into double-digits with 12 points and nine boards.
West Virginia falls to 10-1, 0-1 in conference play while Notre Dame moves to 9-4 (1-0).
As much of a heartbreaker as this game was, it showed that West Virginia will likely be a force to be reckoned with through the remainder of the season. While critics nationwide brushed off the early Mountaineer schedule as "too easy" and WVU received few votes from "insiders" in the national polls, I think the ladies managed to prove a good bit tonight. It proved that, while West Virginia's program MAY not be ready to crack the top 25 just yet, it is ready to run with the best teams in the best conference in the country. It shows that, even in an off night for the majority of the West Virginia offense, the defense is ready to step up against a top team and allow the team to hang around and maybe, just maybe, pull off a major upset.
West Virginia showed tonight that, while it is still not deep enough to continually pound away at bigger teams, it has improved in depth and size from last season, enough to contend and perhaps even win in the end.
Lastly tonight, I want to thank ALL of the Mountaineer fans who turned out at the Coliseum tonight to support a deserving team. This program has been struggling for years to bring in the fan support it had in the early and mid-90's, and I hope the 2,001 tonight were just the beginning. You all saw a very good game tonight (exceeding even MY high expectations) and I hope you continue to show up, beginning Saturday, until the Mountaineers finally break through and defeat their first top-25 opponent in years. Jump on the bandwagon now, you'll regret it later if you don't!