COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) West Virginia overcame a slow start and overpowered a scrappy Princeton team in the second half Friday for a 74-65 win in an opening game of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
Bria Holmes scored 26 points for West Virginia, which struggled in the first half against a Princeton zone defense but eventually found its shooting touch and began to push around the Tigers in the paint. Princeton couldn’t stay with the bigger, stronger Mountaineers in the final quarter.
”We came out kind of slow, I feel like,” Holmes said. ”I feel like having the lead at halftime, we came back out and were attacking the rim and found the open person so that really helped us out a lot.”
Anja Martin added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Mountaineers (25-9), who advance to the Sunday game host Ohio State, with the winner moving on to the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, regional.
Annie Tarakchian paced Princeton (23-6) with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
”I think we were in it the whole time,” Tarakchian said. ”I knew I had to make some shots to keep us in the game, so coach said to keep shooting and when I got daylight I did. Today was a fun game. It was a fun time. I hope it was fun to watch. It sure was fun to play. I think we really proved we could keep up in this environment.”
Princeton, the first Ivy League team to ever get an at-large bid to the tournament, led much of the first half, thanks to cold shooting by West Virginia, which initially struggled to find open looks against the Tigers’ zone. The Mountaineers trailed by as many as eight but managed a 30-29 lead as the half ended.
After shooting just 28 percent from the field in the opening half, the Mountaineers hit more than half their shots in the second half. They were 6 for 22 from beyond the 3-point arc, while Princeton was 5 for 18.
”They’re a fast team,” said Princeton forward Alex Wheatley, who scored 18 on 9-for-10 shooting. ”I think they stepped up the defensive pressure, and they made some shots when they needed to.”
West Virginia: This marks the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance for the Mountaineers, the first since 2014. The team has reached the tournament nine of its 15 seasons under coach Mike Carey.
Princeton: Played in the tournament for the sixth time.
West Virginia: Martin was 4 for 5 from the foul line. Teanna Muldrow shot 6 for 8 from the foul line and contributed eight points total. Coach Mike Carey said it was a tough game for his side. ”At tournament time you just try to survive, and that’s pretty much what we did this game,” he said. ”Give Princeton credit. They had a lot of seniors, and they played hard and we (were) able to hit some buckets, especially second half.”
Princeton: The Tigers had returned three starters who were on a team that went 30-0 and won an NCAA Tournament game before being eliminated last year. … President Barack Obama’s niece, Leslie Robinson, saw five minutes of playing time near the end of the game. The sophomore forward is the daughter of Craig Robinson, brother of Michelle Obama.