The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 24, 2014

WVU survives Albany, advances in NCAA play

MORGANTOWN — An hour or so after West Virginia senior women’s basketball player Christal Caldwell scored a career-high 26 points, no small feat for someone who had already played 97 games at the school, she took to Twitter to sum up what the second-seeded Mountaineers’ day in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament had come down to: Survive and Advance !!!! That’s what it’s all about

And that is about as well as you can put WVU’s 76-61 victory over a courageous but outgunned No. 15-seed Albany on Sunday afternoon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the campus of Louisiana State University.

While one would not normally think of a 15-point triumph as coming down to a matter of survival, and this one certainly should not have, that is exactly the case of what happened as they did advance to Tuesday’s 9 p.m. second-round meeting with the seventh-seeded LSU Tigers on their floor.

The Mountaineers played a near perfect first half, building a 22-point lead at one point and going to the locker room with a 42-25 advantage, near-perfect in that the team turned the ball over just two times in those 20 minutes.

Who could have guessed that WVU would match its first-half turnover total in 1:45 of the second half, surpass it before 2 minutes had expired and wind up turning the ball over 13 times while allowing the Great Danes to eat the lead down to five points at 56-51 before Caldwell went into survival mode and scored a basket in transition to put an end to an 8-0 Albany run and then followed that with a jump shot to allow WVU to get its breath back?

Coach Mike Carey, who normally finds little positive in easy victories, had no problem finding flaws in his team’s game and attitude in this one.

“We come out and play like this against LSU, and we’ll get beat bad. We didn’t play hard,” said Carey, who could not even celebrate his team’s 30th victory, which is the most in program history. “We got a big lead and quit playing.

“We quit attacking, turned it over, fouled. We got some players who weren’t hitting their shots so all of a sudden they don’t want to do anything else,” he continued. “We were lackadaisical with the ball. We got seniors making freshman mistakes at times. We got to get a little smarter.”

There are, of course, two sides to every coin, heads and tails, and the other side to this coin was that while WVU was trying to give the game away, Albany was trying to take it.

“Well, obviously I’m very proud of them,” Coach Katie Abraham-Henderson said. “I thought they competed completely until the end. They came out fighters and finished as fighters.”

Their 6-foot-9 center, Megan Craig from New Zealand, certainly proved to be a problem for WVU, even in the first half when she was getting no help. She finished the game with 23 points and six rebounds, and held the Mountaineers’ Asya Bussie to just 3 points as she battled foul trouble.

Bussie did have 12 rebounds and played a big role in helping WVU pull away down the stretch.

To make the comeback by Albany all the more impressive, they did it with their best player, the America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards, in foul trouble, managing just nine points and six rebounds before fouling out. She had averaged 20 points a game.

But this was far more about what WVU didn’t do in the second half as it tries to advance to the second weekend of a tournament it has played in for the last seven years under Carey.

The first half was textbook stuff for the Mountaineers, who can only hope the LSU team didn’t stay around for the second half.

“I thought the first half we moved the ball extremely well, attacked, moved the ball, swung the ball, found the open man, hit shots,” Carey said.

The result was a 16-2 run while Craig went to the bench with foul trouble that blew open the game.

Somehow, though this WVU never seems to do things easily. Most of the season they have spent fighting from behind.

This time they had to fight from ahead.

It’s different, as Caldwell would note when she was asked about enjoying close games and how they let this one become close.

“Well, enjoying close games and this game I think is like completely different, but we just stuck it out and we came together in huddles and just said, ‘Listen, we can’t let this one get away and they’re not going to give up, which they didn’t, so we just had to come together as a team and come out with a victory,” she said.

And so it was survival for West Virginia, which should be satisfying, but somehow the win just wasn’t enough for Carey.

He has to find a way to survive against LSU on its home court in order to advance … and, as Caldwell Tweeted, that really is what it is all about.

NOTES: Even though she scored 20 points, Bria Holmes continues having problems with her outside shot. She went 1-for-12 from 3-point range, many of them wide open looks with time. Other than 3s, she hit 5-of-7 shots … Lanay Montgomery gave Carey strong minutes off the bench when Aysa Bussie had foul trouble … As is almost always the case, WVU point guard Linda Stepney made only one basket but it was a huge 3. She also hit all four of her free throws to finish with 7 points … Averee Fields also had a big game with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists … You wouldn’t think it would be a 15-point victory for WVU with Albany outscoring them 26-22 in the paint and 16-13 in points on turnovers.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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