VU women heading for Sweet 16

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 1:38am

ALBQUERQUE, N.M. — Vanderbilt showed women’s basketball fans here how well they can defend and rebound. They also showed their coach they can execute the trap.

Christina Wirth scored a game-high 21 points as the Commodores held West Virginia to 29 percent shooting in a 64-46 victory here Monday night in second-round NCAA Tournament play at University Arena, also known as “the Pit.”

Next up is the Spokane Regional semifinal on Saturday, against the winner of tonight’s second-round game between top-seeded Maryland and Nebraska.

It’s the fifth Sweet Sixteen appearance for Vandy this decade.

It's also its third Sweet Sixteen in six years under coach Melanie Balcomb, who showed up for a postgame news conference with dampened hair and a towel draped over her shoulder. Seems she has a tradition of throwing water on her players after a good win. Monday night was her team’s time for payback.

“Tonight we had our water bottles ready, and when she came in (to the dressing room), we just started attacking her,” said Wirth. “She hid behind the door, which probably wasn’t the smartest idea because she was stuck.”

Balcomb agreed. “I didn’t go to Vanderbilt,” she explained.

The Commodores dominated the second half after committing 15 turnovers in the first, which led to a 29-27 halftime deficit.

Olayinka Sanni, at 6-foot-2, led the Mountaineers (25-8) with 14 points, two below her team-leading average. She had three quick buckets inside in the first three minutes of the second half, the last giving her team its final lead at 35-33.

Re-enter the 6-4 Liz Sherwood for foul-troubled Hanna Tuomi, and Sanni’s production dried up. With it, so did her team’s — the Mountaineers scored only four more baskets the rest of the game.

“Liz was huge for us defensively, especially,” said Balcomb. “She’s known to be big on offense. When (Sanni) drop-steps and scores, you can’t double-down and help. So we let Liz play behind her and made (Sanni) shoot over her.”

Guard Jessica Mooney provided a spark with three steals and finished with 11 points. Sherwood grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.

As the second half wore on, West Virginia wore down. But Vanderbilt appeared fresher, likely because it rested its starters much of the second half two nights earlier in a 74-47 opening-round win over Montana. West Virginia, meanwhile, needed every ounce of energy to escape that night with a 61-60 victory over host New Mexico.

“You can always blame it on fatigue, but that’s just kind of giving it an excuse,” said West Virginia’s Meg Bulger, who had 13 points. “They went on a run, started hitting some 3s. We weren’t moving the ball as well as we should.”

The Mountaineers’ 46 points were a season-low, and fewest since losing 84-48 at No. 1 Connecticut on Jan. 9.

“We were missing some easy shots, they hit some 3s, and then we just got frustrated and started standing around,” said coach Mike Carey. “Probably did look like we were tired.”

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