West Virginia’s backcourt duo of Christal Caldwell and Bria Holmes left coach Mike Carey confident about the Mountaineers’ chances of making program history in the NCAA women’s tournament.
Caldwell scored 26 points, Holmes added 20 and second-seeded West Virginia defeated UAlbany, 76-61, in the opening round Sunday, setting up a second-round matchup Tuesday night with host LSU, the No. 7 seed.
Averee Fields added 10 points for West Virginia (30-4), now one victory from its first appearance in the Sweet 16.
“We attacked the basket and did what we are supposed to do,” Carey said. “We passed the ball extremely well.”
Megan Craig led the 15th-seeded Great Danes (28-5) with 23 points. But the 6-foot-9 center was hampered by two quick fouls that limited her playing time in the first half.
“I’m very proud of my team,” Albany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said. “They competed and competed to the end, and finished the game as fighters.”
When Craig went to the bench, the Mountaineers went on a 16-2 run to take a 33-11 lead.
“It was more of our defense that was the biggest reason we went on our run like we did,” Holmes said. “It got things going with us offensively and allowed us to score a lot of points quickly when their girl [Craig] went out of the game.”
Indeed, West Virginia’s defense held Albany scoreless for nearly six minutes during the run, and the Great Danes never quite recovered.
“I was just itching to get back out there as quick as I could,” Craig said. “But I knew I couldn’t afford to get into any more foul trouble, particularly in the first half. I just knew that I had to do whatever I could once I was able to get back into the game.”
Albany leading scorer and America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards also got into foul trouble and was limited to only nine points before fouling out with four minutes remaining in the game.
Sara Royals scored 14 points for UAlbany, which fell behind by as much as 22 before mounting a desperate comeback attempt.
UAlbany managed to cut the lead to 56-51 with less than seven minutes to go, but West Virginia scored the next four points to push the lead back to 60-51, securing the victory and its berth in the second round.
“Having Shereesha and Megan in foul trouble was just the difference in the game,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “That changed the entire offensive outlook. We had to change out a lot of stuff and look to some other players to get points. We just couldn’t get over the top once we got it down to five in the second half.”
The Mountaineers have two days to prepare for a virtual road game against an LSU team coming off a commanding 98-78 triumph over Georgia Tech.
“We are used to playing away from home in front of big crowds,” Caldwell said. “The thing about this team is that in those types of situations, our coaching staff says we focus even more. I think if we do that, then we are going to be fine.”
Carey said he expects the Lady Tigers, who had lost eight of 10 entering the tournament, to nonetheless be a formidable foe.
“We know that it is going to be a tough game,” Carey said. “We are going to have to play our offense and our defense for 40 minutes if we are going to be able to win.”
Rosario 2-6 1-2 6, Royals 4-11 6-9 14, Phillip 2-4 1-2 5, Richards 4-8 1-3 9, Craig 9-15 5-8 23, Coughlin 0-1 0-0 0, Tate 2-5 0-4 4, Edwards 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 23-50 14-29 61.
WEST VIRGINIA (30-4)
Caldwell 10-16 3-5 26, Fields 3-6 4-5 10, Bussie 1-5 1-2 3, Stepney 1-1 4-4 7, Holmes 6-19 7-8 20, Palmer 0-3 3-4 3, Hampton 0-1 0-0 0, Faulk 0-0 0-2 0, Harlee 1-2 3-4 5, Montgomery 1-1 0-0 2, Leary 0-0 0-0 0, Gordon 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-54 25-34 76.
Halftime—West Virginia, 42-25. 3-Point Goals—UAlbany 1-6 (Rosario 1-4, Coughlin 0-1, Royals 0-1), West Virginia 5-22 (Caldwell 3-6, Stepney 1-1, Holmes 1-12, Hampton 0-1, Palmer 0-2). Fouled Out—Richards, Royals. Rebounds—UAlbany 33 (Phillip 9), West Virginia 39 (Bussie 12). Assists—UAlbany 12 (Rosario 6), West Virginia 9 (Fields 3). Total Fouls—UAlbany 26, West Virginia 25.