HARTFORD, Conn. -- Rutgers, seeded sixth, scored two quick layups to tie the score right before halftime of its Big East Conference women's tournament semifinal against No. 2 seed West Virginia at XL Center.
That development provided the wake-up call the Mountaineers needed to pull out of their funk and play with the kind of intensity they've shown all year.
West Virginia came out of the locker room with a renewed fire, made an early 9-0 run to take control and then held on for a 56-49 victory agaisnt the Scarlet Knights (19-14) and advance to the championship game at 7 p.m. today against top-ranked Connecticut (32-0).
"I dreaded going into the locker room after those two layups in 10 seconds or whatever," West Virginia guard Liz Repella said. "But to be honest, that sort of gave us the edge that we needed. I mean, here is this team [Rutgers] who had played three nights in a row, including a double-overtime game [Sunday], and yet they were outhustling us and beating us down the floor.
"We just wanted to come out with more intensity and run the floor and we did a much better job of that in the second half."
The Mountaineers (28-4) certainly picked up their intensity in the second half, but they also got a big-time game from their leader, point guard Sarah Miles, who was the best -- and most active -- player on the floor in the second half.
Miles finished with 18 points and two assists, but she also was able to break the Scarlet Knights' press. Despite that pressure, she turned the ball over only three times.
West Virginia coach Mike Carey said that Miles' quickness and ability to get to the basket against the Scarlet Knights triangle-and-two defense was a key during that stretch when the Mountaineers took control.
"We go as Sarah goes," Carey said. "We look for her to get the offense moving, she breaks the press and she can get layups when our shots aren't falling. I thought for the whole game she was playing at a faster speed than everyone else."
West Virginia (28-4), which is ranked No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll, is in the title game for only the second time and, much like the first time -- in 2006 -- it will be a decided underdog to the Huskies.
The Mountaineers lost to the Huskies, 50-44, that game -- after beating Rutgers in the semifinals -- but that was not one of the most-talented Connecticut teams.
But this Huskies might be the best of all time as they enter on an NCAA-record 71-game winning streak. Connecticut defeated West Virginia, 80-47, in February but led by only six with about 16 minutes to play.
Connecticut could be without point guard Caroline Doty, who was knocked out of the Huskies' 59-44 victory against Notre Dame with a head injury in the earlier semifinal.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or 412-263-1720.