NORFOLK, Va. - The West Virginia University women’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in program history with its 68-55 win over ninth-seeded Texas on Saturday at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.
Both teams started the game even offensively, with the score at 18-16 in favor of the Mountaineers (24-9) with 4:42 remaining in the first half. After that point, however, West Virginia used a 13-2 scoring run sparked by two free throws from sophomore Brooke Hampton to take a commanding 31-18 lead into halftime. Texas’ 18 first-half points was its lowest point total in a half all season.
It looked like the Mountaineers would be able to cruise to the win after that point, as they came out of the locker room and continued to hold on to the 13-point lead. But the Longhorns (18-14) continued to fight, using a 9-0 scoring run of their own while winning on the boards to pull within three, 51-48, with 5:40 to play.
“We started rebounding and we changed our defense up a little bit,” explained Texas head coach Gail Goestenkors. “We had five defensive rebounds at halftime and we’re not going to beat anybody with five defensive rebounds; we rely on defensive rebounding to ignite our transition game. During that run, we rebounded the ball defensively which allowed us to get our transition game going.”
But sophomore Taylor Palmer would hit a momentum-changing trey with 3:41 remaining in regulation to push the Mountaineers to a 54-48 lead from which they would not look back.
“Taylor Palmer is our shooter,” said head coach Mike Carey. “I was kidding her after the game because she only played 25 minutes and took 16 shots and if she played 40 minutes she would have taken 52 shots. That is what she does though; she is a great player and she hit a really big shot for us.”
Palmer paved the way for West Virginia with 18 points, tying West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament record of 3-point field goals with four. The record was previously set by Liz Repella during last year’s second round game against Baylor.
Behind Palmer, Asya Bussie scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds, while Jess Harlee had her second career double-double scoring 10 points and grabbing a team-leading 10 rebounds against the Longhorns.
Harlee became the seventh player in program history to score a double-double in an NCAA Tournament game.
“She (Harlee) plays with so much heart and the team feeds off of her,” Carey said. “She sacrifices herself every play and she really knows her role on the court. She has the discipline to take good shots, move the ball, and open it up for some other people. She is also our stopper when we need to make a stop on the perimeter.”
West Virginia got a huge boost from its bench players who combined for 34 points. Behind Palmer, true freshman Averee Fields scored a career-high nine points in a career-high 24 minutes of play while Hampton chipped in seven points including a perfect 4-of-4 from the line.
Defensively, the Mountaineers held Texas to just 27.9 percent (19-of-68) from the field and to 35.7 percent (5-of-14) from 3-point range. The Longhorns converted 60.0 percent (12-of-20) from the line.
Senior point guard Ashley Gayle led the Longhorns with 11 points while senior guard Ashleigh Fontenette added 10. No other players scored in double figures, including leading scorer sophomore guard Chassidy Fussell who entered the game averaging 16.5 points per game and who ended the game having scored just eight points.
The Mountaineers return to action on Monday night, where they’ll face the winner of today’s first round game between No. 1 Stanford/No. 16 Hampton. Tipoff for the game is set for 7 p.m. and the contest will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and online at ESPN3.com.