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J.J. Quinerly takes over in second half to lead WVU past Princeton in first round of NCAA tournament

Mar. 23—MORGANTOWN — J.J. Quinerly was just as much a dominant pitcher than she was a star basketball player Saturday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

She got the win and the save in the same game.

West Virginia's junior guard willed her team back from a nine-point deficit in the second quarter, before taking over in the second half to push the Mountaineers to a 63-53 victory against Princeton in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

"J.J. was special again, " said WVU head coach Mark Kellogg, who picked up his first career Division I NCAA tourney victory. "She has been all year, and I hope people around the country are starting to realize how talented she is."

Up next for WVU: A date with destiny against top-seeded Iowa (30-4) and the nation's top player in Caitlin Clark, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday and will be Clark's final home game.

Clark had 27 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in the Hawkeyes 91-65 first-round win against Holy Cross.

The odds will be heavily against WVU (25-7) as a No. 8 seed. In a No. 8-No. 1 matchup in the women's tournament, the top seed is 48-1 all time.

BOX SCORE That likely won't bother the Mountaineers too much, just like the Tigers' 23-14 lead early in the second quarter didn't seem to faze them.

Quinerly, who played all 40 minutes for the third time this season, scored on a pull-up jumper to cut into that lead and Jordan Harrison nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Princeton's lead was down to 26-24 at the break.

The second half was when West Virginia, which picked up its 25th win of the season for just the seventh time in school history, did its damage.

"We went in at halftime and coach said, 'That's not us. Our defense is way better than that, ' " Quinerly said. "So we just picked it up."

Unable to create any havoc with its pressure defense in the first two quarters, the Mountaineers took it up another notch when the game was on the line.

Princeton had five turnovers in the first half, but that doubled midway through the third quarter, and then reached 13 by the end of the quarter.

"We had 20 minutes left to either give it our all or go home, " Harrison said. "So we just went back to what we had been doing all season. Got some deflections, started slowing them down, and start playing in transition like we always do, and have been doing all year."

That all led to Quinerly putting on a show.

She scored 18 of her 29 points in the second half, all of it coming with either a tough drive to the basket, pull-up jumpers or from the foul line.

She made no 3-pointers in the second half, but didn't have to.

Kylee Blacksten did nail one, though, that gave WVU its first lead, 32-29, and was part of a 13-0 run that saw the Mountaineers take the lead for good.

And then it was all on Quinerly.

She scored 15 of WVU's 21 points in the fourth quarter with constant drives into the lane that simply would not allow Princeton (25-5) to get any closer than six points down the stretch.

For added measure, Quinerly added seven rebounds and three steals. It was the 16th time this season she's gone for 21 or more points and the 17th time she's had at least three steals in a game.

"She has a motor, " Kellogg said of Quinerly. "She's a highly conditioned athlete and an elite scorer. She's done it before. She's conditioned enough to do it."

While Quinerly scored nearly half of the Mountaineers points, Harrison fought through foul trouble and added 15 and Blacksten finished with 10, her first time in double figures since Feb. 6.

Princeton, which had advanced to the second round in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, finished with 21 turnovers in all, but did dominate on the glass with 17 offensive rebounds.

Ellie Mitchell finished with 15 rebounds for the Tigers before fouling out in the final seconds. Madison St. Rose led Princeton with 22 points.