Sunday, March 18, 2012

WNIT: Barbour rescues VCU - again; JMU rallies past Wake Forest

WNIT bracket

Andrea Barbour
This is why you don't pack it in in the WNIT, why you treat these games as though they're as big as anything happening in the NCAAs. Because even though your regular season and conference tournament may not have ended the way you wanted, if you throw yourself into the postseason anyway, some magical things might still happen.

That's what's going on right now for VCU, particularly Andrea Barbour. With six seconds remaining, Barbour made a steal and, for the second game in a row dribbled the length of the floor and beat the buzzer with a layup, this time lifting the Rams past St. Joseph's 67-65 in overtime of the WNIT second round Sunday in Philadelphia.

On Thursday, Barbour went coast-to-coast in the final five seconds and scored as time expired to boost the Rams to a 73-72 win at Bowling Green. This time, her basket capped a 6-0 run by the Rams over the final 41 seconds.

With the victory, VCU avenged a 72-66 loss to St. Joe's in the same building one year and one day ago in the 2011 WNIT first round. The Rams (19-14) will now face the winner of Monday's game between Toledo and Cincinnati in the WNIT round of 16; the date, time and place has yet to be determined.

Frankly, we were a little concerned about the Rams' motivation heading into this WNIT, as they are led by seniors who began the season with their hearts set on ending their careers in the NCAAs. We're not concerned any longer, though, as VCU's seniors have been carrying this club through these remarkable two games. On Thursday, Barbour and Courtney Hurt combined for 50 points and 28 rebounds and scored VCU's final 14 points over the last 2:42. Sunday, Barbour went for 26 points and 8 boards while Division I rebounding leader Hurt had 19 boards to go along with her 19 points.

It wasn't just those two getting it done, though. Chelsea Snyder, VCU's other senior, pulled down 9 rebounds while Robyn Parks (8 points, 6 rebounds), Robyn Hobson and Carleeda Green produced some timely scores to keep VCU alive in a game that featured 12 ties.

As a result, the Rams are suddenly racking up the kind of wins they struggled to produce throughout the regular season. Bowling Green appeared headed to the NCAA Tournament until an upset loss to Central Michigan in the MAC semifinals. And St. Joe's is a senior-laden team with 22 victories to its credit. For all their talent, the Rams weren't beating teams like this from November through early March.

So thank God there's a WNIT.

Kirby Burkholder
VCU wasn't the only state school to survive a WNIT thrill ride. JMU rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit, got a 3-pointer from Nikki Newman with 3.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime - Nikki Newman? - then pulled away in overtime for an 84-76 victory over Wake Forest Sunday in Harrisonburg.

The Dukes (26-7) will host South Florida in the WNIT third round on Friday at 7 p.m.

Sophomore Kirby Burkholder led the Dukes with a career-high 26 points and was 10-for-10 from the free throw line. On two separate occasions, Burkholder was fouled in the act of shooting a 3. She made all six of the subsequent free throws. Lauren Whitehurst added 17 points, Tarik Hislop 13 and freshman Toia Giggetts 11.

It was the fourth time this season the Dukes won after trailing by 10 or more - 12th time under head coach Kenny Brooks - and the 17-point deficit was the largest they'd overcome in Brooks' 10 seasons in charge.

On Monday, Richmond (23-8) will travel to Virginia (23-10) in the other WNIT second-round game of note, at least to us.

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