HARTFORD, Conn. – The No. 25 West Virginia University women’s basketball team fell to No. 3 Notre Dame, 73-45, on Monday night in the semifinal round of the BIG EAST tournament at the XL Center.
The Mountaineers (23-9) suffered a slow start on both sides of the ball as the Fighting Irish (30-2) had revenge on their minds, using a layup and jumper from sophomore guard Kayla McBride and a trey from senior guard Natalie Novosel to jump out to a 7-0 start within the first three minutes of play.
“We knew that they were going to come out with a chip on their shoulder,” said Ayana Dunning. “Coach told us that the first eight minutes is when they were going to try and get a lead on us and that’s what they did.”
West Virginia would spend the remainder of the game trying to cut the deficit and give itself a chance to pull off another upset win. With 14:43 remaining in regulation, freshman Linda Stepney
sank a free throw, redshirt-junior Ayana Dunning hit a layup and freshman Akilah Bethel sank a 3-point shot to go on a 5-0 scoring run and provide some energy for the offense.
The Mountaineers were unable to extend the scoring run after that point, however, and while they never gave up, they would be unable to earn their second win over Notre Dame this season.
“I’m not going to make excuses for our team,” said head coach Mike Carey. “They just beat us. They did exactly what they needed to do. They had more energy, they played harder and they just beat us. We’re not going to use the excuse that we were tired or something happened. We didn’t come out ready to play and they did and that’s what happens when you play good teams.”
Despite its struggles, West Virginia held BIG EAST Player of the Year and fourth-leading league scorer Skylar Diggins to just nine points and three rebounds in 31 minutes of play. The team also shut down senior forward Devereaux Peters, who came into the game leading the league in rebounding with an average of 9.6 rebounds per game.
Peters’ night was cut short as she went to the bench with four fouls, 11 points and two rebounds having only played 16 minutes.
The Mountaineers won on the boards overall, out-rebounding the Irish, 37-33, and paving the way for 15 second chance points. Prior to tonight’s game, the Fighting Irish ranked second in the league in rebounding.
Bethel led the way on the glass with a career-best nine rebounds. She was followed by freshman Averee Fields
who had six.
And for the second time this season Notre Dame had trouble containing Dunning and junior center Asya Bussie
at the post, as the two took advantage of the weakness and combined for 27 points. The Mountaineers dominated in the paint, scoring 32 points in comparison to 18 from the Fighting Irish.
“Mike Carey has done a really great job, especially this year having lost four starters,” said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. “When you play their teams, you know they’re going to be well coached and they’re going to be great defensive teams. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country and they’re always in the hunt.”
Bussie paced the Mountaineers in scoring for the 11th time this season, putting up 15 points and pulling down five rebounds. She was followed by Dunning who scored 12 points, and Fields who ended the night with seven points.
Offensively, Notre Dame was led by Novosel, who scored 18 points. Behind her, McBride chipped in 15 points while Peters and Diggins added 11 and nine points, respectively.
“Don’t think I’m not proud of these players, because I am,” Carey said. “For the whole season I’ve been very proud of these players and they deserve a lot of credit. I’m still proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish this season. I’m just disappointed in today.”
The Mountaineers now return to Morgantown to await their NCAA Tournament fate, which will be announced on ESPN at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 12.