HARTFORD, Conn. - For the fifth straight year, the West Virginia University women's basketball team won its opening game of the Big East Tournament, rolling past Syracuse, 63-48, in its second-round game at the XL Center on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, the Mountaineers improved to 22-8 overall on the season and advance to the quarterfinals for the ninth time in program history.
The key to Saturday afternoon's contest against Syracuse was the Mountaineer defense, which held SU's leading scorer senior forward Iasia Hemingway to just nine points, 7.5 points below her scoring average coming into the game. The defense also held junior center Kayla Alexander to just four points, 10 points below her scoring average.
Overall, West Virginia held Syracuse to its third-lowest scoring total this year.
West Virginia also played physical on the boards, outrebounding the Orange for the second time this season. Prior to Saturday's game, Syracuse held a plus 9.6 rebounding margin, the third-highest rebounding margin in the league and had only been out-rebounded on five other occasions throughout the season.
"I thought it was a very physical game for both teams," said WVU head coach Mike Carey. "I told the players coming in that this game would be won or lost in the paint or on the boards. I thought overall our players played extremely hard."
Redshirt junior Ayana Dunning paved the way for the Mountaineers on the glass for the 15th time this season, pulling down seven rebounds. She was followed by junior Asya Bussie who pulled down five rebounds.
Lastly, West Virginia placed Syracuse in foul trouble early, something the team had planned to do as it had proved a game-changer during the first time the teams met in December. Hemingway and sophomore center Shakeya Leary each had three fouls by halftime, while Alexander and junior guard Elashier Hall had each picked up three fouls by the middle of the second half.
This allowed for West Virginia to capitalize at the charity line, which it did by converting 72.7 percent (24 of 33).
"That was something we were looking to do and that's what we tried to do; take it inside and cause foul trouble," Carey said. "I thought it was a total team effort and it worked well for us."
The Mountaineers were led in scoring by Bussie and Dunning, who posted 13 and nine points, respectively. Sophomore Taylor Palmer rounded out the top three scorers, contributing eight points in the win.