The Hokies, on the back of 18 points from forward Ieva Kublina and an additional 13 from center Erin Gibson, sneaked away from the Coliseum with a hard-fought 55-48 victory over the Mountaineers.
West Virginia started off the game on the right foot, for sure. The Mountaineers jumped to a 7-0 lead on Tech going into the first media timeout, thanks in part to five Hokie turnovers. In spite of two early fouls taking Michelle Carter out of the game for the second time in four days, the Hokies were unable to do much offensively in the paint. WVU sustained their seven-point margin and even managed to expand the lead to ten at 16-6, then 18-8 with 7:52 left, with all of the scoring coming from the Mountaineer perimeter of Yolanda Paige, Kate Bulger, and Sherell Sowho.
Coming out of the 7:52 timeout, Virginia Tech scored two buckets to close to 18-12, but everything seemed to be going right for West Virginia when Paige sank a three to respond with 5:23 left to make the score 21-12. Everything looked right for the Mountaineers - they couldn't be stopped, even with all of their scoring coming from the guards, and the Hokies having the size edge inside. But, right there at Paige's score, the streak shooting typical of the first three conference games for WVU showed up again. West Virginia would not score for the remainder of the half, and Virginia Tech took a 9-0 run to tie the score at 21 at the break.
The cold streak continued for WVU going into the second half. Virginia Tech's run would end at 19-3 at the 15:50 mark, seven of those points coming from Gibson and another six coming from Kublina. The Mountaineers were able to come back with an 8-0 run to take the lead at 32-31 with four of the points coming from an awakened Carter.
The game would then go back and forth, West Virginia taking one more lead and keeping the score within one most of the way to the 4:00 mark, when Kublina would sink a three and take control of the game. Kublina's big shot came right after the Mountaineers were able to get she and Gibson into foul trouble and presumably take an inside edge.
The Hokies took control with an 8-0 run to pull the lead out to 51-42, and the Mountaineers were never able to mount a serious challenge from there - the game closed to 53-48 with 23 seconds left before a pair of free throws pulled it back out to the seven point victory for the visitors.
West Virginia's inside depth weakness again showed with Carter picking up early fouls. No other players were able to step up and get some scores for Carter in the first half. Liz Holbrook, said to be at about 70% as she battles to recover from a nasty ankle sprain, shot 0-5 for the game and managed only one rebound.
Defensively, Grace Carson and Kristen Kilgore fared well at stopping the Hokies, but neither were able to pull down the rebounds they needed. Carson scored only two points.
The inside troubles spread to the outside in the closing minutes of each half. This had the effect of taking West Virginia out of its typical game plan, much like Villanova did a week ago. Yolanda Paige took 18 shots while dishing out only three assists. Further, Bulger and Sowho combined to take only 21 shots. While Paige was able to score 15, she connected on only six of her shots - she would have been better advised to find another shooter.
Paige led the Mountaineers in scoring, being followed by Bulger, who scored 11 points on 5-14 shooting and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds. Bulger moved into sole possession of 19th on West Virginia's all-time scoring list with 1,051 points, 10 ahead of Brandi Batch and 19 behind Dionne Morris.
Michelle Carter was able to get her game together in the second half, scoring 11 on 5-9 shooting and pulling down six boards, all in just 23 minutes. Sherell Sowho scored seven, and Eartha White and Grace Carson had two each.
Virginia Tech was led by Ieva Kublina, who scored her 18 on 7-15 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds. Erin Gibson, with her 13 on 6-10 shooting, got 13 rebounds.
West Virginia falls to 10-4, and an ugly 0-4 in Big East play. The Mountaineers have a good chance of rebounding Wednesday, facing Marshall in the Capitol Classic in Charleston. But, the road ahead won't be easy - the Mountaineers return to conference play at nationally-ranked Boston College on Saturday and face a rematch with Notre Dame in two weeks.
It should help when Holbrook gets healthy, but in the meantime, Coach Carey will have a tough task ahead of him - finding a way to keep his team's chins up and ready play, night in and night out. If there's any consolation, the Mountaineers have had the opportunity to win each game thus far, and perhaps the break or two they need to stop the slump is right around the corner - let's hope so!