UCLA beats WVU 62-60 for WNIT title
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) The gap in the middle of West Virginia's defense was a repeating invitation that UCLA freshman Jordin Canada couldn't pass up.
Canada drove to the basket often and scored a season-high 31 points to lead UCLA to a 62-60 win over West Virginia for the Women's National Invitation Tournament championship Saturday.
Canada was the only double-figure scorer for the Bruins (19-18) and was selected the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
''The driving lane was wide open,'' Canada said. ''I just tried to attack the basket as much as I can.''
West Virginia had success in keeping UCLA's Kari Korver and Nirra Fields in check. Korver had made 12 of 17 3-pointers in her three previous games and was limited to five points Saturday. Fields, who had averaged 20 points in the tournament, finished with two points on 0 of 9 shooting.
But West Virginia's focus on Korver and Fields meant more chances for Canada.
''They had to expend a lot of defensive energy to take those two guards away,'' said UCLA coach Cori Close, who said that made the decision easy to let Canada keep shooting.
''Late in the game, all I was like is keep the ball in her hands, get out of her way,'' Close said.
Canada made 9 of 19 shots and 13 of 15 free throws.
''Give her credit,'' said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. ''She attacked.''
The same wasn't true for West Virginia, which had trouble getting close looks at the basket against UCLA's zone defense and was whistled for several shot clock violations.
''We were going east and west instead of north and south,'' Carey said. ''You want to know why Canada got 31? Because she went north and south.''
UCLA came from six points down to take a 57-53 lead on Kelli Hayes' layup with 3:19 remaining.
After Linda Stepney's weaving layup with 39 seconds remaining brought the Mountaineers within 58-57, Canada still had some work to do.
She made a layup with 22 seconds left, then raced back and stole the ensuing inbounds pass past midcourt. She was fouled and made two free throws for a 62-57 lead.
''I saw they were trying to get it upcourt quickly to score,'' Canada said. ''I knew we were only up by three points. I saw her loft it in the air, so I had enough time to go get it and I beat her to the ball.''
Averee Fields led West Virginia (23-15) with 17 points. Bria Holmes added 14 and Linda Stepney scored 10.
The championship game was moved to the Charleston Civic Center because West Virginia's home venue in Morgantown about 2.5 hours to the north was being used Saturday for a regional NCAA women's gymnastics meet.
UCLA: The Bruins had a pair of four-game losing streaks during the regular season, then finished with a season-best six straight wins finals in its first appearance in the WNIT.
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers also lost in the WNIT title game in 2005. ... West Virginia had reached the finals after back-to-back overtime wins over Villanova and Temple.