Taylor Palmer-led West Virginia puts away Texas after rally falls short

NORFOLK, Va. -- Taylor Palmer wasn't thinking about filling a void when West Virginia center Ayana Dunning went to the bench with her fourth foul and more than 14 minutes to go Saturday.

The sharpshooting sophomore did just that, though, scoring 13 of her 18 points in the second half, including a huge 3-pointer with 3:39 to play, as West Virginia squandered most of a 15-point lead before beating Texas 68-55 in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament.

"I think that's just how the game went," Palmer said of her scoring, which included eight straight points. "I wasn't thinking too much. If I was open, I took the shot."

The biggest one came near the end, after Texas used a 15-3 run to get within 54-51. Both teams went several possessions without scoring, then Palmer came free on the right wing and made her fourth 3-pointer, ending a drought of 5 scoreless minutes for her team.

"I think we needed that spark," she said, "I don't think we thought we were going to lose the entire game, but I think that shot gave the whole team momentum."

It also ignited a game-clinching 8-0 run for the eighth-seeded Mountaineers (24-9).

"That was really big for us," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "We were running set plays and we weren't scoring. That kind of opened it up a little bit."

Ashley Gayle scored 11 points and Ashleigh Fontenette 10 to lead No. 9 seed Texas (18-14), which lost its fifth consecutive tournament game. The Longhorns shot just 27.9 percent, making 19 of 68 shots, and got only 12 points off 22 offensive rebounds.

"The bottom line is we didn't make shots, and you've got to make shots to advance," coach Gail Goestenkors said. "They did a great job defensively with their physical style of play and we didn't always handle it well."

Asya Bussie added 12 points and Jessica Harlee 10 for West Virginia, which was coming off a 28-point loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament semifinals.

The game was billed as a matchup of Texas' guard-oriented attack and West Virginia's size and defensive intensity, and the Mountaineers made it work even after a sloppy, turnover-filled start and foul trouble that plagued Dunning.

Carey was especially pleased with the scoring, especially for a team that occasionally wins ugly. The Mountaineers beat Georgetown 39-32 in the Big East tournament.

"For us to score 37 in a half, and 31, is good," he said.

Palmer played a big part with four 3-pointers, along with five rebounds and three assists. She was the major reason the Mountaineers' bench outscored Texas' bench 34-13.

Texas appeared to have caught a break when Dunning, West Virginia's top rebounder, drew her fourth foul with 14:23 to play, but that's when Palmer asserted herself. She scored on a steal and fast-break layup, then hit 3-pointers 90 seconds apart. Her feed to Bussie for a layup made it 48-33 with 10:19 remaining, matching the Mountaineers' largest lead.

Texas got 3-pointers from Chelsea Bass and Yvonne Anderson to get within three, but after both teams went three possessions without scoring, Palmer's 3 was the backbreaker.

When Brooke Hampton hit two free throws, and Jessica Harlee scored on a driving layup and added a free throw, West Virginia's lead was back up to 59-48.

Texas' game-long shooting woes sent the Longhorns to another early exit. Their three primary guards were a combined 9 for 42 from the field.

The Mountaineers led 31-18 after closing the first half on a 22-5 run over the last 10 minutes. Texas, meanwhile, hit just seven of 32 shots.

Chassidy Fussell, the Longhorns' top scorer with a 16.5 average, was held without a point. She missed all six shots from the field, including at least one she heaved up to beat the shot clock. Anderson, the team's No. 2 scorer, was 0 for 4 and also didn't score in the half.

Fussell finished 3 for 14 with eight points, and Anderson was 2 for 13 with seven.