West Virginia women worn down

Kevin Gorman
| Monday, March 24, 2008

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The West Virginia women's basketball team came here with a boulder on its shoulder, miffed about its seeding and having to play its NCAA first-round game against New Mexico on the Lobos' home court.

The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (25-7) have another obstacle to overcome when they face No. 4 Vanderbilt (24-8) in a Spokane Region second-round game at approximately 9:30 tonight at The Pit.

The 61-60 victory over New Mexico was emotionally exhausting and physically taxing on West Virginia, which had six players log 20 minutes or more. Three Mountaineers -- Chakhia Cole (37 minutes), LaQuita Owens (36) and Ashley Powell (31) -- played almost the entire game.

Meantime, no Vanderbilt player went more than 30 minutes in a 75-47 victory over Montana. The combination of fresh legs and high altitude could give the Commodores a decided advantage, even if they won't say so outright.

"I mean, we're in the NCAA Tournament, so I feel like everyone's going to be up, no matter what," Vanderbilt junior guard Jennifer Risper said. "It doesn't matter if you played one game or you know we had a game like we had the other night. I think they are going to come ready to play just like every single team you play.

"I think it's good, physically, that we didn't have to play 40 minutes and they did. Hopefully, that will be something that to plays to our advantage."

West Virginia coach Mike Carey realizes the road to Spokane, Wash., isn't going to be easy for his Mountaineers.

Since January, Vanderbilt has won 15-of-19 games, with three losses coming against Southeastern Conference champion and Oklahoma City Region No. 1 seed Tennessee and the other to New Orleans Region No. 2 seed Louisiana State.

"We had a tough game, and our girls are a little tired. But we have to refocus," Carey said. "We are playing a very good Vanderbilt basketball team. They concern me in the post, and they have shooters on the perimeter (who) are very selfish and move the ball very well.

"We are definitely going to have our hands full with them."

If the Mountaineers are going to win, they will need a strong performance from 6-foot-2 senior center Olayinka Sanni. The two-time All-Big East first-team selection is averaging 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

"I think she is one of the best post players I've seen on film," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "She is an amazing post player with a lot of great low-post moves. What I love is how she rebounds the basketball and especially her own misses. The determination and drive she goes after the basketball is amazing and, obviously, one of the best we've seen all year. There isn't a lot of post players like her out there.

"It will be a tough matchup for us. Like every team we've played, you can't just guard her with one player. You need to be able to help, and it's going to be a team effort to guard Sanni."

Vanderbilt has just that in junior forward Christina Wirth, who leads the team in scoring at 12.9 points, and 6-4 senior center Liz Sherwood, a two-time recipient of the SEC's Sixth Woman of the Year who averages 11.0 points.

They have had to contend with All-American post players in Tennessee's Candace Parker, who averaged 22.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games against the Commodores, and LSU's Sylvia Fowles (18 points, 11 rebounds).

But Sanni has struggled in her past two games, scoring 12 points with only one rebound in a loss to Louisville in the Big East semifinals and scoring eight points with eight rebounds against New Mexico on Saturday.

"It's important for Sanni to play well," Carey said. "I really believe Yinka was prepared to play, emotionally ready to play. I think she just was too hyped at the beginning. The first two times she touched the ball, she spun out of bounds, and then, she picked up two crazy fouls.

"She needs to get more focused, and I think she will. That will be the key for us, for Sanni to play well against their post."

Additional Information:

Today's game

No. 5 West Virginia (25-7) vs. No. 4 Vanderbilt (24-8)

When, where: Approximately 9:30 p.m. · The Pit, Albuquerque, N.M.


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