BATON ROUGE, La. — West Virginia’s NCAA second-round jinx was five minutes away from being deader than a possum on the side of I-10.

The end-game blueprint was two-faceted for the Mountaineers: Keep their poise and keep feeding the ball to Asya Bussie. Somehow, neither happened.

What occurred instead was an uncharacteristic meltdown for a veteran team that had chewed up these pressurized moments all season. Then again, March provides its own kind of pressure.

And this time, when LSU charged, WVU caved.

From seven points ahead with 5:05 left, West Virginia swooned to a 76-67 defeat that was dizzying, mystifying and lethally quick.

“We lost our focus,” said Bussie, who scored all of her 21 points in a gigantic second half yet rarely touched the ball during the crucial, closing minutes. “We weren’t defending and we weren’t executing the way we were earlier. Down the stretch we didn’t do things we were supposed to.”

Coach Mike Carey, who the previous day rightfully bragged about his team’s penchant for gutting out close games, witnessed pure panic on offense. Perhaps WVU’s balanced scoring actually became a negative, with proven shooters trying to stop the bleeding when tossing the ball inside to Bussie was the surest tourniquet.

“It’s hard to tell some of your good players that are wide-open on the perimeter not to take the shot when they’ve hit them all year,” he said. “But we’ve got to be smart enough to go inside. Asya was just dominating inside the second half.”

Christal Caldwell, just 48 hours removed from scoring a career-high 26 points, closed out her career by shooting only 3-of-19. Her five misses during LSU’s 20-4 closing run included a 14-foot air ball in the lane and traveling violation that negated another drive.

“I feel like I rushed a couple, and probably took some bad shots,” she said. “At the end of the day I just didn’t make them.”

But such a pronounced collapse wasn’t merely of the offense’s doing—not when LSU scored on its 10 final possessions. The Tigers made 6-of-9 shots during their surge and got offensive rebounds on all three misses.

“We just stopped rebounding—just didn’t box out,” Carey said. “We started giving them second and third shots. It’s hard to beat somebody when they 38 points in the paint.”

Despite paralyzing foul trouble and losing a concussed starter, LSU simply proved more resilient. Sophomore point guard Danielle Ballard scored 22 points, chased down 15 rebounds and made six assists. Forward Shanece McKinney finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. And then there was reserve Jasmine Rhodes—held scoreless in her five previous games—contributing 11 points in relief of guard Jeanne Kenney, who left after taking a first-half bump to the head.

“They chose to dig a little deeper and give a little more for Jeanne,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “I’m extremely proud of this team for realizing how great they can be.”

How great a team West Virginia was instantly becomes debatable. That’s the cruel side of the NCAA tournament, where a few muddled minutes can sour the legacy of a historic season.

“I hate it,” said Christal Caldwell. “Just to know deep down in my heart that we did not play our best game and we did not do some things we’ve done all year. To go out like that really hurts.”

Especially after grousing about a perceived lack of respect ever since the brackets came down eight days ago. Carey led that rhetoric, partly to keep his players hungry in spite of their top-10 ranking. He realized lasting respect would only come with an extended tournament run.

That respect was so close Tuesday night, merely a few poised possessions removed from a Sweet 16. But unlike previous times this season, Carey’s 30-win team didn’t find the resolve to secure No. 31.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Nothing against LSU—they deserve a lot of credit—but I felt we gave one away.”

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  • John

    Great season indeed. However, two seeded WVU was treated like a seven seed by the NCAA and Lsu a seven seed was treated like a second seed. Until women's basketball changes these home field advantages no matter what the seed, they will not take the next step up. The NCAA desperately needs teams like WVU to move on to the elite eights and final fours. When more teams are perceived as having a chance each year to advance far in the tournament, more people will attend the games. As long as the same few teams have distinct advantages women's basketball will not become more prestigious. Women's basketball has made great strides but more parity and NCAA neutrality is the next step.

  • WVcoal

    The #2 seed, ahead by 7 points with about 5 minutes left and lost by 9. When you are the #2 seed, you've got to be expected to win on the #7's home court if that is the hand you are dealt. I hated to see the ladies go down like they did and hate to admit that this loss was a choke of epic proportions that will be difficult for the program to overcome. Y9ou don't get NCAA tournament opportunities as good as this very often, especially with the unparalleled success this team had.

  • mad hatter

    great team , great season, great coach.

  • WVU Fan - Sigh

    Everyone is right. It was a great year and ......... it was a choke.
    LSU had the trip where they got like 4, 5 fouls against the 'eers cause they got offensive boards. Made a big 3 and that was it.
    I am convinced with each year there will never be a national championship in Morgantown. Riffle doesn't count.
    Different teams in different sports seem they have what it takes from time to time, but fall.

  • Troll

    Anything less than championship is failure. Only one winner the rest are losers. No room in sports for coddling and participation trophies, if your not the champion your a loser bottom line.

  • ole sasquatch

    When it comes BIG time we've had 2 coaches in basketball & football fairly recently rise to the occasion on a National level. Who are they you may ask? Bob Huggins and Rich Rodriguez.
    I give them credit - they performed against the odds and Ole Sasquatch has been around too long to know these historic events in our beloved WVU history don't happen too often. Thanks, Coaches - you gave us something we longed for and will not forget!

  • Mark

    Very proud of a great team and a great season. If they were ever going to do it, this was their year. Attention to fundamentals just killed them last night. If they just tried to block out in the 2nd half, they win easily.

  • mad hatter

    i think the girls are setting wvu up for great seasons in the future, we have an exceptional coach, who is a classy guy, and always seems to keep his cool.
    I look forward to going to many more games that the ladies play in the future.

  • mad hatter

    absolutely great season for a great bunch of gals,,, you represented wvu and wv very well.. next yr will be even better

  • John S. Shackelford

    The NCAA selection committee got the outcome it wanted last night. ROT IN HELL!

    • Low Rider

      I agree that playing at LSU was a raw deal...but you know what...It didn't bother Louisville. They routed Iowa on their home court to advance to the next round.

      Great teams find a way to advance. If we can't make the sweet 16 at 30-4, in all probability, we will never make it!

      • Say What

        That is a safe bet.

  • mad hatter

    Great job ladies, you make us very proud of your accomplishments this year.We certainly look to you for inspiration going into next year.
    You have a great coach, and a great team, don't hang your heads, you have accomplished more than any previous eer team.. Be proud. Nothing at all neg. about this year, smile, and enjoy, and pay no attention to people like aaron who doubt you.

  • Aaron

    The part I think that hurts is that legitimately, this team had a real shot at going to the Final Four if they play like they are capable. That was a tough one to watch but I give credit to LSU. They played a tremendous zone defense to take away the inside game. It's easy to say feed it to Bussie, which I did, but it's another when she has 3 players surrounding her every time the ball comes to her side of the floor.

    It was a great run though. From a basketball standpoint, I love to watch the ladies play the game it's more than chucking 3's and driving to the basket. Last night, in the last 5 minutes, for whatever reason, our Mountaineers failed to execute what they are capable of doing.

    Thank you for a wonderful season. I know we lose 5 Seniors but we have players coming back as well as at least one Top 50 recruit. Hopefully Coach Carey can get this program to the point that we don't rebuild, we reload.

    As always, it's a great day to be a Mountaineer.

    • Say What

      When you have three defenders on you, what are the other two doing with your four teammates?

    • Shinnston Guy

      Well stated, it was a great season. That being said, this loss should sting both the players and the coaching staff because it stings us as fans! I won't second guess anyone but I didn't sleep well last night after watching it. Time for baseball!

      • Aaron

        Me either. As I said on another thread, that one hurt.

  • jay zoom

    Ladies I noticed a tear at the end of the game. You should be standing tall (which I know you are) because you all are winners and you made WV proud. Life is just beginning for some of you in your future and I know you will all excel no matter what you do with your life.

  • jay zoom

    (to not a fan) I guess if you have/had a daughter who was interested in sports you wouldn't support her. But you noticed #32 for LSU tattoo so evidently you care something or you wouldn't be watching it. Their were NIT Games on as well hockey. Any way your nothing but a (JACK ASS) or an ASS 0 take your pick.

    • Not a fan

      I just noticed it in the pic above, never saw a second of the game.

      • Aaron

        Had you watched the game, you would have seen an excellent basketball player that would likely embarrass you on the court.

  • WVU fan in Boston

    Lady Mountaineers thank you for a great season! Seniors thank you for choosing to represent WVU and WV. Much success to you as you advance your professional careers!
    To the underclass women, you have big shoes to fill next season, work hard during the off seasoon. Coaches it is your time to recruit.

    Again, thanks for the exciting season!