It didn't look like a typical Villanova (or West Virginia) game at first - the Wildcats jumped out to a 10-0 lead on a pair of three-pointers by Nicole Druckenmiller. West Virginia wasn't able to get on the board until after the first media timeout, on a basket by Michelle Carter with 14:17 left. Carter turned out to be the offense for West Virginia through the rest of the half, being joined in the latter part of the half by Yolanda Paige, who atypically took ten shots before the intermission.
The Mountaineers were stifled by the slow tempo of Villanova, a problem compounded by the tenacious defense of one Katie Davis, who refused to give Kate Bulger any room to breathe. The result? West Virginia was only able to pull the game to within five points at 21-16 with less than four minutes to go before halftime, and trailed 26-18 going into the locker rooms.
As I said, Katie Davis had one assignment all day and that was to stop Bulger. The result was that Bulger was limited to a total of two shots the entire half. Sherell Sowho only managed only three shots. As a contrast, Michelle Carter shot nine times and, as noted above, Yolanda Paige ten. Paige, one of the nation's leaders in assists, had none at the half. She and Carter combined for 16 of the team's 18 points, the other two coming from Janell Dunlap.
The second half started with more promise for West Virginia. The Mountaineers closed to within four at 28-24 with 16:45 left when Sherell Sowho was awakened and scored four straight. Then Paige and Carter keyed a 7-1 run to close the gap to within one at 32-31. The Mountaineers managed to keep the game within three all the way to the Villanova timeout with 4:48 left, but then Trish Juhline exploded and took control. Juhline finished the game with 20 points on 9-23 shooting and the Wildcats took home the victory, 53-43.
West Virginia was led by Michelle Carter, who scored a career-high (as a Mountaineer) 21 points on 7-13 shooting, completing a double-double with ten rebounds. Yolanda Paige, normally not a shooter, finished the game with 14 points on 6-19 shooting, but finished the game with West Virginia's LONE assist. Truly, that was one of the two telling stats of the game. While West Virginia kept the game almost totally even in rebounds, turnovers, and personal fouls, the Mountaineers had one assist to 11 turnovers.
Villanova was able to take West Virginia's outside shooters, Kate Bulger and Sherell Sowho, away, forcing Paige to take nearly two-fifths of West Virginia's shots. In the meantime, Kate Bulger and Sherell Sowho combined for 11 attempts, with only two made by Sowho. Sowho finished with four points, and Bulger two.
West Virginia and Villanova took the same amount of shots on goal, 49. The difference was the Mountaineers made only 16 while the Wildcats made 20, and those four were all three-pointers - West Virginia was unable to score one. Aside from those stats I've evaluated, the game was virtually even in all categories.
This game with Villanova highlighted a pair of key weaknesses that West Virginia is going to need to overcome if they wish to break .500 in the Big East and perhaps advance to postseason play. West Virginia needs to find somebody who can step up when Bulger and Sowho have a slow night, preferably a player off of the bench who can provide a spark and allow Yolanda Paige to play her normal role of finding the open shooter. Paige is at her best when she isn't forced to shoot the ball, as was shown yesterday. Had the Mountaineers found someone off of the bench to score even a fraction of what Bulger and Sowho can normally contribute, that may have opened up the others to pick up the tempo and light up the scoreboard.
Secondly, the Mountaineers need Liz Holbrook back as soon as possible. Michelle Carter can't be expected to pour in 21 every night. Usually her duty this season has been split with Holbrook and the two could score 8-12 points each, with the added bonus of perhaps one breaking into the high 'teens. Eartha White, as good as she can be, also can't be expected to fill in the shoes of the larger and more physical Holbrook. If Liz can't make it back quickly, it may be time to give a Kristen Kilgore, Tish Williams, or Grace Carson more time (or split between the three) to try and fill the shoes.
In the meantime, West Virginia has now dropped two straight to fall to 10-2, 0-2 in Big East play. The Mountaineers next face the Lady Friars this Wednesday in Providence, which is their best chance for their first conference win of the season and, just maybe, the right medicine to get back on track.