Mountaineers will face Southwest Missouri State
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- West Virginia ended its offensive drought just in time against Kentucky.
West Virginia squandered a 22-point second-half lead but rode a 31-point, 11-rebound performance by Meg Bulger to an 80-75 double-overtime win over Kentucky in the semifinals of the Women's NIT on Monday night at Memorial Coliseum.
West Virginia (21-12) extended its longest postseason run ever and will play Southwest Missouri State on Thursday in the tournament's title game.
"Every time they took the lead, one of our young ladies came down and hit a big shot," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "I'm very proud of that. This was a tough place to play, probably the loudest place we've played in all year."
West Virginia was scoreless for more than 11½ minutes in the second half and lost its sizable lead before rallying and outscoring Kentucky 14-9 in the second overtime.
Bulger, a sophomore guard and the leading scorer in the Big East Conference, had eight points in the second overtime and went 4-of-4 from the free-throw line in the final 26.8 seconds.
"She took the ball to the basket more," Carey said. "I thought in the second overtime, we finally started pushing the ball on a miss.
"It seemed like when we got the 22-point lead, we played not to lose. We didn't play to win. We were a little bit tentative. Finally in that second overtime, I said, 'Let's push it,' and we were able to get six points off the break," he said.
West Virginia shot 11-for-23 from 3-point range. Sherell Sowho led the way, going 5-for-7 and scoring 21 points. Bulger, who set a school record with her fifth 30-point game of the season, shot 4-for-9 from 3-point range.
West Virginia led 49-27 with 16:43 left but didn't score again until 5:09 remained. After Sowho's 3-pointer put the Mountaineers ahead by 22 points, West Virginia had just three baskets and nine points in the final minutes of regulation.
"That's not a pretty stat," Bulger said of the scoring drought. "It's something you never, ever want to happen in a game. But luckily we pulled together in the end, and our defense kept us in it when we weren't scoring."
Kentucky (18-16) took its first lead at 53-52 with 2:27 left in regulation. West Virginia regained the lead before Sara Potts made a six-footer with 7.8 seconds left to tie the game.
"I don't think this team has ever given up during a game," said Potts, who scored 29 points after scoring 32 and 31 points in Kentucky's two previous games. Entering the WNIT, the senior guard's career high was 30 points.
After a West Virginia turnover, Kentucky freshman Samantha Mahoney missed a well-guarded 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The teams traded the lead in the first overtime. West Virginia went just 4-of-8 from the line, and Potts made two free throws with 15.9 seconds left to tie the game at 66. Yolanda Paige missed at the buzzer for West Virginia.
Kentucky didn't score for the first three minutes of the second overtime. Bulger scored with 1:53 left to give West Virginia a 72-66 lead, and the Mountaineers shot 6-for-8 from the line to help seal the win.
"We had to exert a lot of energy in the game," Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss said. In the second overtime, "it may have caught up with us."
Freshman center Sarah Elliott finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Wildcats, who matched their season high with 23 turnovers and completed their longest postseason run.
Kentucky hit just 3-of-17 shots from beyond the arc, including 2-of-10 by Potts.
Paige had 12 assists for West Virginia, giving her 892 in her career and tying the senior for eighth on the NCAA Division I career list.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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