The No. 21 Miami Hurricanes (21-5, 10-5) won a crucial Big East game on Saturday night as they defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers (19-8, 10-5) 82-74 at the Convocation Center.
The ‘Canes entered Saturday’s match-up a game behind West Virginia in the Big East standings and after this weekend’s games, both teams are now involved in a three-way tie for the all-important fourth place in the conference. The top four teams receive byes for the first round of the Big East Tournament next weekend at the Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut.
“West Virginia is one of eight teams in the Big East who have an outstanding record,” Head Coach Ferne Labati said. “You don’t know if they are going to take eight teams [in the NCAA tournament], so this was a huge win positioning wise in the standings.”
Senior Chanivia Broussard led the Hurricanes with 25 points and eight rebounds before she fouled out with 2:12 left in the game. Four other ‘Canes scored in double figures on the night. Senior Shaquana Wilkins, who has been playing with a stress fracture in her right foot, added a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
The only time Miami trailed was when they were down 2-0, but that was quickly erased by a three-pointer by junior Melissa Knight.
The Hurricanes, coming off their worst loss of the season to Notre Dame, opened up the game on a 9-2 run, with sophomore Tamara James on the bench for the first two minutes for violating a team policy. The ‘Canes ended the first half on a 19-9 run and led 37-26. The Mountaineers shot a woeful 25 percent for the half.
The Hurricanes came out on fire in the second half, going on a 9-0 run to open up a 46-26 lead with 17:45 to play.
West Virginia had trouble all night stopping Miami’s inside game, as they couldn’t control Wilkins or Broussard. The ‘Canes continued pounding the ball inside and led 72-52 with 3:28 left after a James field goal.
After leading by as many as 22, West Virginia went on a 16-2 run to cut the lead to 74-68 with 37 seconds left. Kate Bulger of the Mountaineers hit four three-pointers in the last 1:42 to make the crowd of 1,327 a little nervous. Kate (game-high 28 points) and Meg Bulger (six points) are sisters of former West Virginia and current St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.
“Our kids played outstanding basketball tonight,” Labati said. “Except for the fact that they lost focus again in the last five minutes. That is something that we have to work on.”
Junior Yolanda McCormick hit six key free throws down the stretch to make sure the Mountaineer comeback fell short. McCormick finished with 14 points and nine assists.
James, Knight, and Wilkins all finished with 12 points.
Miami shot 49.2 percent on the night, while West Virginia shot only 35.9 percent. The Hurricanes also had the edge on the glass, out rebounding their Big East foes 44-32.
“We’re at the end of our season and we have to prove that we’re a good team,” Wilkins said. “We don’t want to go to the tournament as a bubble team, because even though we’re ranked we are still borderline.”
The ‘Canes return to action on Tuesday night (March 2) at the Convocation Center against Providence at 7 p.m. The match-up with the Friars will be their last regular season game of the year before heading to the Big East Tournament.
Douglas Kroll can be contacted at email@example.com.