COLLEGE PARK, Md. — West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey incredulously tossed his arms up in the air midway through the third quarter of the Mountaineers’ first-round NCAA tournament win over Elon.
Directly front of him, guard Chania Ray dribbled outside the 3-point line, fruitlessly trying to create space as the shot clock dwindled. Eventually, Ray made a pass and the possession turned into points for the Mountaineers.
The key to that bucket, what Carey was hoping to see from his offense, and the reason West Virginia advanced to the second round with a 75-62 win are all the same: The Mountaineers moved the ball down low.
“Everything was on the perimeter, and it wasn’t working,” Carey said. “We made a decision — we’re going in the paint. Our guards weren’t getting it done.”
West Virginia will face No. 3 seed Maryland Sunday in College Park.
After the offensive struggles helped No. 11 seed Elon stick with the No. 6 Mountaineers late into the game, Carey turned to his team’s bigs to gain separation. In the first three quarters, neither team built a lead larger than six points.
The teams were tied at 53 with about seven and a half minutes left when the Mountaineers went on a 10-0 run in just over two minutes, finally distancing themselves from the upstart Phoenix.
Center Lanay Montgomery sparked that run with two of her 11 second-half points. Then, back-to-back 3-pointers from guard Katrina Pardee — her third and fourth triples of the night — capped the run and forced Elon into a timeout.
“We had to go inside-out a little bit,” Carey said. “If they double down [inside], we have wide open shots.”
Early in the game, the Mountaineers struggled to make shots at all, shooting 4 for 15 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Elon found success getting to the rim and scoring at the bucket, helping the Phoenix lead 13-10 after the opening period.
“We were a step slower in the first half,” guard Tynice Martin said.
Martin, who shined two weekends ago as the Mountaineers won the Big 12 Tournament to clinch a berth in the big dance, couldn’t find her shot early. She started 2 for 8 from the field and the team made just four of its first 17 shots.
Martin continued shooting, though, helped by the confidence from her coach, she said. The sophomore made seven of her 24 shots in the game, matching her career high in shot attempts and scoring a game-high 26 points.
The star of the second half, however, was Montgomery. The 6-foot-5 senior missed just one shot after halftime and grabbed five offensive boards, finishing with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“Coach made calls to get me the ball,” Montgomery said, “because we thought we had a mismatch.”
Forward Teanna Muldrow also benefited from Carey’s pleas to his team to feed the ball to its post players, making all four of her second-half shots.
The emphasis down low was how the Mountaineers sparked their offense, Carey said.
“When you’re hitting shots [from outside] and all that, just keep doing it, who cares,” the 16th-year coach said. “But when you’re not scoring, try something different.”
Friday, “something different” meant getting the ball to Montgomery, the tallest player on the court by two inches.
“Often, I wouldn’t consider myself the scorer of the team,” Montgomery said. “[But on] different nights it calls on different players, and I think tonight was my night.”