WVU Women Dominate Boards, Buck Broncs
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia gained the upper hand on Rider late in the second quarter of Thursday’s WNIT first round game at the Coliseum.
Then, back to full strength to start the third quarter, it dropped the hammer.
Kari Niblack, limited to 91 seconds of action by two quick fouls in the first half, scored 14 points in a span of seven minutes and 18 seconds and the Mountaineers significantly stretched a 10-point halftime lead, defeating the Broncs, 83-43.
Niblack finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, all in the second half, in only 19 minutes of action for the game.
“She plays hard,” WVU coach Mike Carey said. “You don’t see her shooting threes. You don’t see her doing all these moves inside. She plays hard. She chases the ball down. She gets position.”
Naomi Davenport and Tynice Martin posted 23 points each, with Davenport (15 rebounds) and Martin (eight rebounds) also contributing to a 61-31 advantage on the glass for WVU (21-10).
Stella Johnson scored 18 points for Rider, which ends the year with a 19-13 mark.
With the announcement just before tip-off that Theresa Ekhelar had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, Niblack got the starting nod.
And it didn’t start well, with those two quick whistles.
“I just went, and she fell,” Niblack said of the second foul. “I heard the whistle and I thought, ‘I know he didn’t call this a charge!’ That’s something that I’ve been working on all season, just staying out of foul trouble. Well, trying to stay out of foul trouble.”
“I couldn’t believe it. I had to laugh. Before we even went out, I pulled her aside and said, ‘Kari, you understand that you’re our only center. You can’t foul. If you get beat, let it go,’” Carey said. “I would rather take a little bit of that out of her than have someone that doesn’t play hard.”
“She’s a threat out there. Just imagine if she plays, what, 25 minutes? Or 40 minutes? She’s going to be dangerous,” Davenport said. “She helps us a lot on the boards and attacking the basket.”
Still, West Virginia led 10-3 with 4:46 left in the first quarter after a Davenport jumper and 19-11 after the first quarter, but Rider got within three at 19-16 on a Lea Favre jumper and within a point at 21-20 on a Johnson bucket.
“Coach got on us,” Davenport said. “He said, ‘This is the time that we prove that we should have been in the NCAA.’ That clicked in our heads.”
West Virginia scored the next nine points, four from Davenport, to lead 30-20 with 3:37 to go in the half.
Rider got within six on baskets by Favre and Johnson, but Davenport’s steal-and-lay made it a 34-24 game at the half and the lead never dipped below double digits again.
That was thanks in large part to Niblack, who used her size and speed to get to the rim early and often in the third quarter.
The lead was 15, 45-30, after a Niblack free throw at the 5:54 mark and climbed to 21, 55-34, on two Madisen Smith free throws with 1:30 to go in the quarter.
WVU scored 10 points in the paint and eight on second-chance opportunities in the period to lead 55-36.
The advantage went over 30, 69-38, on a Davenport free throw with 6:39 to go.
The final score was the largest margin as WVU’s defense held Rider to progressively poorer shooting: 36 percent in the first quarter, 29 in the second, 24 in the third and 18 in the fourth.
WVU will host either Villanova or Old Dominion in the second round on Sunday at 3 p.m.