CHARLESTON, W.Va. - - No. 2 seed Wheeling Jesuit University outscored No. 3 seed UVa-Wise 22-11 over the final six minutes of Saturday's Mountain East Conference Women's Basketball Tournament semifinal to upend the Cavaliers 74-68 inside the Charleston Civic Center. The win propels the Cardinals to their second consecutive tournament final, Wheeling Jesuit won the event in 2016.
Wheeling Jesuit (24-6) took its first lead of the second half with 4:32 to play when sophomore Monica Burns canned a 3-pointer to give her club a 59-58 lead.
A possession later UVa-Wise (21-11) starting point guard Taylor Sandidge would get injured and be forced to leave the game. With the senior out, the Cardinals' Kylie Frizell scored inside to run the lead to 61-58 with 3:41 remaining.
Sandidge would later re-enter the game but UVa-Wise would never again have the ball with a chance to take the lead as Jaana Molton and Burns would keep the Cavs at arm's length. A bucket by Burns and a missed jumper by UVa-Wise put Kristin Kunzman's team in a must foul situation with less than 40 seconds to play trailing 67-64.
The senior forward would split the free throws and after a missed 3-pointer by UVa-Wise, Chelsea Richardson put the game out of reach by connecting on a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game with 30 seconds left.
The semifinal appearance was the first for the Cavs who started the game by playing solid defense and receiving contributions from multiple players.
UVa-Wise limited Wheeling Jesuit to 1-5 shooting from the 3-point line in the opening quarter while freshman Kayla Mullins made a pair of 3-pointers to aid the No. 3 seed to a 21-16 lead after the first 10 minutes.
Kunzman's crew would maintain the lead throughout the first half as the Cardinals went 0-5 from beyond the arc in the second period to finish the half shooting 10 percent from distance. The Cavs also cleaned the glass in the opening 20 minutes by grabbing eight offensive rebounds en route to a 23-16 advantage on the boards at halftime.
Leading by three to start the third quarter, UVa-Wise would build its lead to as many as nine points in the third period on back-to-back buckets by senior Kayla Carey. The Knoxville, Tenn. native finished her final collegiate game with 15 points.
Wheeling Jesuit countered with an 8-0 run of its own behind the play of Frizel. The guard scored five of the eight points during the run to make the score 39-38 with just under six minutes showing on the third quarter clock.
After Makenzie Cluesman and Molton exchanged buckets. The Cavs hit back-to-back 3-pointers, one each by Cluesman and Mullins.
Moments later Mullins would drill her fourth 3-pointer of the game to aid the Cavs to a 50-47 lead after three quarters.
While UVa-Wise was able to keep Wheeling Jesuit off the glass in the first 30 minutes, the team's inability to grab defensive rebounds proved costly in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals would grab six offensive rebounds in the final 10 minutes and turn the second chance opportunities into 11 points. Wheeling Jesuit finished the game with 11 offensive boards and battled back to lose the rebounding battle by just four at 38-34.
As has been the case all season, Debbie Buff's team was near perfect at the charity stripe. Wheeling Jesuit connected on 15 of 17 free throw attempts compared to an 11-16 showing by UVa-Wise.
Motton led all players with 17 points in the win. The forward added 10 rebounds to record a double-double. Burns finished with 16 points while Frizell and Callen had 12 each for the Cardinals.
Cluesman tied Carey for team-high scoring honors with 15. The Jonesville, Va. product added six rebounds, five assists and three steals in her final collegiate game. Sandidge netted 14 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists. The Waynesboro, Va. product finished her career with 1,420 points – the seventh most in school history. Mullins posted 14 points on 4-7 shooting to go with five boards, four assists and a pair of blocks.
The 21 wins posted by the Cavaliers this season were the most by the program since the 2005-2006 campaign.
Wheeling Jesuit plays No. 5 seed Fairmont State four the tournament title Sunday at 1 p.m.