Joei Clyburn’s recent play lifted Xavier to the Atlantic 10 tournament championship and its longest winning streak in six years. Now she’ll try to keep it going against her former team on an even bigger stage.
Clyburn and the sixth-seeded Musketeers go for their 11th straight victory when they meet West Virginia on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Austin, Texas.
After sitting out a season following her transfer from West Virginia (20-10) to Xavier (26-7) before the 2005-06 season, Clyburn has become crucial to the Musketeers’ success. She is averaging 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds off the bench, winning A-10 sixth player of the year honors.
The senior forward had 19 points and 13 rebounds in the conference title game to lead Xavier to a 65-59 win over St. Joseph’s on March 5. She was named the tournament MVP with averages of 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games.
“It just didn’t work out for her here,” Mountaineers coach Mike Carey told the team’s official Web site. “She went to Xavier, sat out, and was the MVP of their conference tournament so that shows you how smart I am.”
Carey’s squad will certainly have to play smart to snap the Musketeers’ 10-game winning streak, which is their longest since the 2000-01 squad won 21 in a row.
“I think we are finding a rhythm,” said Xavier senior guard Michele Miller, who is averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. “I think these last 10 games have shown competitiveness, drive and determination from everybody that’s out there for 40 minutes.”
Atlantic 10 freshman of the year Amber Harris has shown that drive, leading the team with 16.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game. The 6-foot-5 forward is the school’s all-time blocked shots leader with 133 and has already set a freshman scoring record with 534 points.
She’ll try to help Xavier improve its 4-5 all-time mark in the NCAA tournament when it makes its first appearance since 2003. The Musketeers haven’t recorded a victory since 2001 when they beat No. 1 seed Tennessee in the Mideast Regional semifinal before falling to Purdue in the final.
The 11th-seeded Mountaineers’ last NCAA win came in 1992 when they advanced to the round of 16. They are 2-3 all-time in the tourney, making their first appearance since 2004 and fourth overall.
“They deserve this and it’s important for our program but we also need to go out and win a game or two,” Carey said. “We cannot be satisfied that we’re in. We need to stay focused and try and win some games.”
West Virginia started the season 8-7, but has since won 12 of 15 games and will be going for the 500th victory in program history on Saturday. The Mountaineers were fourth in the Big East during the regular season, their highest finish ever, but lost 68-56 to Louisville in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
LaQuita Owens scored 28 points, including 26 in the second half, and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds. The junior guard is the team’s second-leading scorer with 14.0 points per game and has a team-high 56 steals for West Virginia, which has held opponents to an average of 56.3 points.
Junior center Olayinka Sanni leads West Virginia with 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but was limited to four points in the last loss.
West Virginia has taken two of three all-time meetings between the teams, but Xavier won the last matchup 99-68 on Dec. 8, 1992.
The winner of this game will meet third-seeded LSU or No. 14 seed UNC-Asheville on Monday.
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