Wirth's 21 leads VU to Sweet 16Photo galleries and postgame quotes

March 24, 2008


notesthumb.jpgColumn: Aggressive Starts | media_icon_photogallery.gif Gary Stepic’s Photos | media_icon_photogallery.gif AP Photos | notesthumb.jpgPostseason Central | Box Score | Postgame Quotes

camera1.jpgAll Access Video: Watch Vanderbilt’s & West Virginia’s Postgame Press Conferences

Next: Saturday, March 29 in NCAA Regional Semifinals
vs. [1] Maryland / [8] Nebraska winner in Spokane, Wash.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — For Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb, it was all about body language in the second half.

Christina Wirth scored 21 points and reserve Jessica Mooney added 11 to help Vanderbilt beat West Virginia 64-46 on Monday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The fourth-seeded Commodores (25-8) advanced to the regional semifinals in Spokane, Wash., where next weekend they’ll meet the winner of Tuesday’s game between Nebraska and Maryland.

“We’re already anxious and ready to play Saturday,” Mooney said. “We’ve practiced so well lately and we had a good shoot-around today. We were ready.”

Vanderbilt also looked fresher than the Mountaineers (25-8), who ran out of gas in Albuquerque’s mile-high altitude two nights after pulling out a stirring 61-60 win over New Mexico.

“We could sense they hit a wall,” Balcomb said. “There was a timeout around the 8-minute mark where they had lost momentum. They were all putting their heads down. They were walking. They were looking over to the coach for timeouts.”

risperwirth285305.jpg(AP Photo/Jake Schoellkopf)

On Vanderbilt’s bench, Balcomb knew her players had seen the Mountaineers wearing down and she could sense their excitement.

“We talk about mental toughness and having each other’s back, having each other’s eyes and carrying ourselves with confidence,” Balcomb said. “Mentally, that puts other teams away. Show them how fresh you are.”

Olayinka Sanni led fifth-seeded West Virginia (25-8) with 14 points while Meg Bulger scored 13 and LaQuita Owens had 10.

Vanderbilt has won 11 of its last 12 games, and this time the Commodores got a big lift from their bench. Mooney, one of six sophomores on the roster, led the way as Vandy outscored West Virginia’s reserves 20-2.

“It happens a lot for us,” Mooney said. “We always try to bring a spark off the bench. Coach always talks about that — make sure you’re a spark.”

The Commodores recovered from a sloppy first half where they committed 15 turnovers.

“We were trying to go really fast,” Wirth said. “They were in a zone and we were just forcing too many things.”

Two big runs midway through the second half put Vanderbilt back in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2005.

West Virginia led 35-33 after Sanni got free for a layup but Vanderbilt’s Jennifer Risper drove for two baskets in an 8-0 burst. The Commodores led 41-35, forcing Mountaineers coach Mike Carey to call timeout at the 13-minute mark.

Owens came out of that break by hitting a 3-pointer, trimming the margin to 41-38, but Mooney scored twice off turnovers and Wirth made a long 3-pointer as Vandy used a 10-2 run to pull away.

“We let Wirth sit out there and shoot 3s,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. “That got them going, and offensively we didn’t reverse the ball. We took more bad shots tonight than we probably did in five or six games.”

The Mountaineers simply ran out of gas two nights after a stirring 61-60 win over New Mexico. On one possession near the 5-minute mark, they took six shots but couldn’t find the basket.

They looked tired, even if they wouldn’t admit it later.

“You can always use fatigue as an excuse, but it should never be a factor,” Bulger said. “They just made a run and made some 3s. We hit a slump offensively, didn’t move the ball as well as we should have. They capitalized on it.”

The Commodores, on the other hand, looked lively in the second half, and it’s easy to see why. Balcomb was able to rest her starters during a lopsided opening-round win over Montana.

“We talk about coming together when we’re tired, when there’s adversity,” Balcomb said.

In fact, Wirth broke into a big smile after making a 3-pointer, her fourth of the game, to push Vanderbilt’s lead to 62-45 with 1:58 remaining. Moments later, Liz Sherwood added a flip in the lane, and it was party time back in Music City.

The Commodores, in the NCAA tournament for the ninth straight year, committed seven turnovers in the second half, though two came in the closing minute.

The Mountaineers led 29-27 at the break despite Vanderbilt’s 21-8 rebounding edge. But it was just a matter of time before the Commodores got going.

“Coach told us that wasn’t acceptable at all for us to have 15 at halftime. Not acceptable,” Mooney said. “We just needed to take care of the ball. I think we were just overanxious, making stupid passes.”