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No. 18 West Virginia advances to Big East semis

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- West Virginia has its swagger back.

After being blown out by Syracuse in the regular-season finale, the Mountaineers (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) came into the Big East tournament with a bit of chip on their shoulder.

Olayinka Sanni scored 20 points and West Virginia moved into the Big East semifinals Sunday with a 64-42 rout of South Florida.

"I think we came together as a team and we played team defense and team offense," Sanni said. "Definitely, we needed that loss to get it out of our system and now we're on a roll."

LaQuita Owens added 14 for the Mountaineers (24-6), who will play Louisville in Monday's semifinals. The Cardinals upset Rutgers (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 4 AP) 57-56 in their second-round game.

Shantia Grace had 13 points for USF, which finished the season 16-15.

The Mountaineers, who were delayed in arriving to the tournament by this weekend's snow in the Midwest, had a first-round bye and drew Sunday's final game. But once they finally hit the court, they made quick work of the Bulls.

Owens had eight early points and the Mountaineers broke out to a 16-6 lead. They stretched it from there, holding USF to 20 percent shooting in the first half.

Grace, who scored 25 points in an overtime upset of Syracuse in the first round, was 3-for-10 from the floor before intermission, but that was half of the team's made shots, and they went into halftime trailing 39-15. She finished 4-of-16, including 1-of-8 from behind the arc.

Eight minutes into the second half, it was 52-22.

Sanni, a 6-foot-2 senior, hit nine of 14 shots. Owens was 5-of-7 from the field, and had three 3-pointers.

South Florida, which came in on a three-game winning streak and had won four of six, looked tired. The Bulls had four players log at least 39 minutes against the Orange, and Grace and Jazmine Sepulveda each played all 45 minutes Saturday night.

The team hit just 15-of-59 shots, and was 2-of-23 from 3-point range on Sunday.

"You could tell we just did not have our legs," coach Nick Fernandez said. "Our kids kept battling. It was obvious that first media timeout. Tia [Shantia] and Jazz just didn't have any lift on their shot."

West Virginia had beaten USF in their only other meeting this season, 79-73 on Jan. 5.

The Mountaineers were 12-3 in January and February, but had dropped two of their last three.

"This is the first time this team has been in this situation, where we feel we've made it to the NCAA ... and frankly, I don't think we handled it well," WVU coach Mike Carey said. "Now I think our intensity is getting a little bit better."