LSU 49, West Virginia 43
AUSTIN, Texas (AP)—Sylvia Fowles seemed frustrated and angry. Her LSU teammates looked as if the weight of a tumultuous postseason might finally be too much to bear.
But the Lady Tigers saw no reason to give up just yet.
Fowles scored 14 of her 21 points in the second half, and LSU rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat West Virginia 49-43 on Monday night in the second round of the Fresno Regional.
“With my intensity, I got frustrated,” Fowles said. “(But) I knew I had to lead by example.”
Playing without former head coach Pokey Chatman, who abruptly resigned March 7 amid allegations of improper conduct with a former player, third-seeded LSU was in danger of seeing its run to a fourth consecutive Final Four end early when West Virginia led 35-24 in the second half.
But Fowles, held in check in the first half by Olayinka Sanni, took over the game when the West Virginia center had to go to the bench for nearly 12 minutes with foul trouble.
Fowles scored six points in a 12-0 run and her layup with 7:58 to play put LSU up 36-35..
“She’s it for us,” said LSU acting head coach Bob Starkey, who briefly benched Fowles after she appeared to get angry by the physical play in the first half and swung an elbow that barely missed Sanni’s head.
“She effects so many phases of the game,” Starkey said. “We just had to start valuing each possession. We needed some players to step up and make plays.”
Fowles was 9-of-10 from the floor and grabbed 13 rebounds for LSU (28-7).
When these teams met in the season opener on Nov. 12, LSU routed the Mountaineers 64-25. Defense and a 33-0 run by the Lady Tigers blew that one open.
West Virginia (21-11) was much better in the rematch. Just not quite good enough.
“We were looking forward to playing this game because they did embarrass us earlier and some people didn’t think we should have been in the NCAA tournament,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said.
The 11th-seed Mountaineers were within 21-18 at halftime despite Sanni struggling with three fouls and no points. But Sanni’s presence under the basket helped push around the 6-foot-6 Fowles, holding her to seven points.
Sanni then scored six in a 10-2 run to open the second, and the Mountaineers thinking upset. She powered past Fowles for two baskets, then ripped two rebounds out of her hands. West Virginia led 28-23 when LaQuita Owens stole the ball and used a stunning spin move for a layup that left Ashley Thomas sitting on the floor.
The run wouldn’t last much longer.
Sanni picked up her fourth foul with 15:09 to play and went to the bench for the next 12 minutes. Although WVU stretched the lead to 35-24, the Lady Tigers stormed back with the 12-0 run.
Quianna Chaney hit two 3-pointers and Fowles scored six points in the burst that helped LSU retake the lead. The teams traded one-point leads four times.
“Coach told us not to get it all back at once,” LSU guard RaShonta LeBlanc said. ‘We did that and took it possession by possession.”
Fowles put LSU up for good, 40-39, when she snared a high pass and easily stretched her long arms up for a layin. Sanni, waiting at the scorer’s table to get in, could only watch as the Mountaineers struggled to find anyone with the strength to match against Fowles’ height and agility.
West Virginia trailed 44-43 when Sanni’s last shot rimmed out in the final two minutes. WVU missed three shots in a row and LSU slowly built the lead to the final margin from the free throw line.
The Mountaineers didn’t hit a basket over the final five minutes. Ashley Powell, who averaged 2 points during the season, scored 13 to lead West Virginia.
The Mountaineers haven’t advanced to the round of 16 since 1992.
“We had them right on the ropes,” Carey said. “We could have very easily won this game.”