Columbus, OH -- Princeton came out looking for the upset, but West Virginia settled into their game in the second quarter and pulled out a 74-65 win.
The Princeton Tigers came out strong in the first quarter. They paced their offense and had patience with ball movement. They attacked the basket and found their shot very quickly, jumping out to a 13-7 lead. Alex Wheatley started off stellar for the Tigers on both sides of the ball, putting up 12 of her 18 points in the opening quarter.
"We weren't focused to start the game," head coach Mike Carey said.
Their defense shut down West Virginia's offense. They had a simplistic 1-2-2 zone that forced West Virginia to shoot from the arc, and their shots were not sinking at all.
Although they couldn't get their shots to drop, they controlled the glass, out-rebounding the Tigers 16-10 at the end of the first quarter. The Mountaineers eventually found their offensive groove and narrowed the gap to just two points, down 18-16 at the end of the first.
West Virginia was an entirely different team in all facets of the game at the start of the second quarter. They forced sloppy passes from Princeton and caused two consecutive shot clock violations.
Princeton was a different team as well, and it didn't benefit them at all. Their shots stopped falling; they forced shots and bad passes, and they couldn't penetrate the paint as much as they could in the first quarter because of West Virginia's tight defense. The Tigers were flustered which led to very sloppy play.
West Virginia used their height and size down low to finally get inside the paint, thanks to Lanay Montgomery. She not only put up needed buckets, but she also blocked shots that came into the paint. She finished the afternoon with four points and nine boards. Bria Holmes led West Virginia with 26 points and eight assists.
West Virginia took their first lead of the game late in the second quarter and held it going into the locker room, ending the half up 30-29
"We came out slow. We should have attacked their zone more, but we came out strong to give us that boost," Holmes said.
"We had to adjust our defense and communicate more going into the second half," guard Chania Ray said.
West Virginia came soaring out in the third quarter, widening their lead and causing turnovers. Their shots started to sink, and they found a way to spread out Princeton's defense.
Princeton still had some fight in them, and three critical three-pointers Annie Tarakchian sparked life in their offense. They got back in the game and narrowed the gap to just one point halfway through the quarter, down 39-38.
"When I got daylight, I shot the ball," Tarakchian said.
Princeton found their stride to take back the lead, but it didn't last long as West Virginia came roaring back with excellent shot selection. They read the offense well and picked off countless passes.
It started to get very physical and rowdy as players started throwing jabs and committing stupid fouls. The free throw line allowed West Virginia to stretch their lead to 49-46 at the end of the third quarter.
West Virginia kept their dominance in the fourth, going on a 9-0 run in the opening three minutes. Another three-pointer by Tarakchian sparked life for Princeton, but it was too little too late. West Virginia finally settled into their game and moved the ball beautifully around the court.
"We found a lot of open men for our shots. We had a better second half, and that's how we won the game," Holmes said.
Their transition flowed, and they found their offense. They widened their lead to 10 points halfway through the final quarter, leading Princeton 64-54 with 4:32 left in the game.
Princeton's Tia Weledji hit a three to give some life to the Tigers. It was followed by a layup to narrow the gap to just five points, down 68-63. It wouldn't be enough as the free throw line came in clutch for the Mountaineers to give them the 74-66 win
West Virginia will play the winner of the Ohio State and Buffalo game on March 20th at a time to be determined.
Princeton finished their season at 23-6.