BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With less than five minutes to go, Mike Carey had his West Virginia squad on the verge of the program’s first second-round NCAA tournament victory in school history.
Suddenly, Mountaineer shots started going anywhere but in the hoop, and the players in LSU purple and gold seemed to swarm to every rebound.
Second-seeded West Virginia found itself the victim of a stunning 18-4 run by seventh-seeded LSU during the final 4:53, and the Lady Tigers seized a 76-67 victory Tuesday night, denying the Mountaineers a spot in the Sweet 16.
“We quit getting the ball inside,” Carey said. “We won 30 basketball games this season but we felt like we gave one away here tonight. When we took the lead initially we were getting the ball inside. Then all of a sudden we turned the ball over some and took some bad perimeter shots. We also turned the ball over way too much and we just quit rebounding.”
Asya Bussie had 21 points and Bria Holmes 12 for West Virginia (30-5), which fell to 0-8 all time in second-round games. But like Georgia Tech before them, the Mountaineers struggled to deny Danielle Ballard, LSU’s dynamic sophomore guard, who had 22 points and 15 rebounds. WVU also could not ultimately capitalize on LSU’s foul trouble.
LSU appeared to be on its heels when Bussie’s free throw made it 63-56 and capped a stretch in which WVU scored 13 of 15 points at the foul line.
Ballard responded with runner, sparking a 6-0 run that pulled LSU back to 63-62 with 3:30 left.
A day earlier, Carey had said he liked his team’s chances in a close game with four minutes left, because WVU had been so solid closing out games all season.
Not this time.
Bussie’s transition layup with 3:02 to go was WVU’s only basket during a more than five-minute span, and LSU went up 72-65 when Ballard’s free throws capped the decisive run.
“We just lost our focus and weren’t defending,” Bussie said. “Just down the stretch, we didn’t do the things we were supposed to do.”
By contrast, LSU survived having two its best front court players, Theresa Plaisance and McKiney, on the bench with four fouls each with 12 minutes left.
That allowed WVU to exploit mismatches with its top interior players, Bussie and Holmes, who combined for 10 points during a 16-2 run that gave the Mountaineers a 57-50 lead.
McKiney returned with about nine minutes left and Plaisance with 6:40 to go. Plaisance finished with nine rebounds and eight points in 28 minutes, and LSU outrebounded WVU 55-40.
West Virginia also hurt itself with poor shooting, hitting 19 of 63 from the field (30.2 percent).
WVU senior guard Christal Caldwell, who had 10 points, was 3 of 19 shooting, 1 of 9 from 3-point range.
“I hate it,” she said of how her career ended. “I know deep down in our heart we didn’t play the best game and didn’t do some of the things we’ve done all year long. It hurts to go out like that.”
McKiney finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks, while DaShawn Harden added 12 points for LSU (21-12), which advanced to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season – both times with a second-round upset on its home court.
The Lady Tigers played most of the game without senior guard Jeanne Kenney, who not only averages 11.6 points but has been the team’s emotional leader. After Kenney left with a concussion in the first half, younger, less experienced players had to pick up the slack. Jasmine Rhodes was one of them, scoring 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting after not scoring in her previous five games.
“They chose to dig a little deeper and give a little more for Jeanne, because she’s been just that for them for a long time,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “I’m extremely proud of this team for realizing how great they can be.”
Next up for LSU is a rematch with Louisville. The two teams played in the preseason WNIT and the Cardinals came away with a 21-point win.