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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

One More Time?

One More Time?
By John Antonik for
March 7, 2006

    HARTFORD, Conn. – Every bubble team in the country will be tuned into ESPN2 tonight to watch 15-15 West Virginia play Connecticut in the Big East Championship at the Hartford Civic Center. The Mountaineers are trying to become the first 12th-seeded team in conference history to capture the league tournament and its automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

    West Virginia's LaQuita Owens celebrates her team's 56-40 upset victory over Rutgers in their semifinal game at the 2006 Big East Women's Basketball Championship in Hartford, Conn., Monday, March 6, 2006. West Virginia was 12th seeded in the tournament, while Rutgers was number one. Others in photo are Ashley Powell, left, and Olayinka Sanni, center, and Kate Glusko, right.
    AP photo/Bob Child

    If it doesn’t then West Virginia’s magical season is over.

    Last night, the Mountaineers once again held their opponent to less than 50 points by upsetting top seed and No. 6-rated Rutgers 56-40. In three tournament games, WVU has permitted its opponents to shoot just 27.8 percent and commit 59 turnovers.

    Defense has proved to be West Virginia’s winning formula because its offense has failed to reach 60 points in 11 straight games dating back to an 82-70 win over DePaul on Jan. 31. The Mountaineers shot 36 percent against Rutgers, with 21 of their 56 points coming from the free throw line.

    West Virginia’s top three scorers for the tournament are each shooting below 40 percent. Britney Davis-White, who poured in a team-high 21 points in last night’s win over Rutgers, has made 13 of 35 from the field for 37.1 percent. Chakhia Cole scored 18 points against Rutgers on 6 of 12 shooting, but has managed to make just 31.4 percent of her shot attempts for the tournament (11 of 35). And LaQuita Owens’ 36 points in three tournament games has come on 34.4 percent shooting.

    Even 6-foot-2-inch sophomore center Olayinka Sanni, shooting primarily from close range, has had a tough time finding the mark making only 10 of 22 for 45.5 percent. Backup center Yelena Leuchanka has been the only WVU player to find her mark, hitting 9 of 12 shots for 75 percent while scoring 19 points.

    “I know I’m in a daze,” said Davis-White after last night’s win. “We could have done this a long time ago back when we lost eight in a row after we lost Meg Bulger.”

    Cole believes the team is playing with a big chip on its shoulders right now.

    “I don’t know what to say because I don’t want to say anything negative,” Cole said. “We came out and did what we had to do. And for anybody who counted us out, we’re still here.”

    Connecticut (28-4) is also here and is playing on its home court. The No. 7-rated Huskies are making their 16th trip to the Big East finals where it owns a 12-3 record. UConn got to the finals by beating DePaul 69-57 Monday night. Barbara Turner led the Huskies with 14 points and Ann Strother added 13.

    Connecticut was eying a rematch against Rutgers in the championship game to avenge a pair of losses during the regular season. Instead, they will play a West Virginia team it has beaten all 16 times they have played the Mountaineers since West Virginia joined the league in 1995.

    “We set out to get ourselves in position to win the championship and we will put ourselves in the same position to win the next one,” said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.

    The Connecticut coach has experienced a change in emotions, first feeling sorry for the Mountaineers for losing their top player Meg Bulger. Now he has a great deal of respect for what the team has accomplished by reaching their first title game.

    “Everyone is contributing,” he said. “I think Mike Carey has done a fabulous job with that team. He told me last night that he only brought two shirts. He deserves it.”

    Connecticut’s Barbara Turner says she is going to treat West Virginia as if they were playing Rutgers.

    “Usually in the tournament it’s about what team is hot and they’re hot right now,” she said.

    West Virginia’s only meeting this year at Connecticut back on Feb. 4 was similar to the style of games it has played in the tournament, holding the Huskies to 58 points in an eight-point loss. UConn shot just 32.1 percent and committed 16 turnovers. Owens scored a game-high 20 points for West Virginia and Charde Houston came off the bench to lead Connecticut with 15.

    Tip off is slated for 7:30 pm.

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