Early foul trouble dooms Albany in 76-61 loss to WVU in NCAA opening round

Less than eight minutes had elapsed before 6-foot-9 Albany center Megan Craig was whistled for her second foul and substituted out of the Great Danes' first-round NCAA tournament game against West Virginia.

As Craig walked to the bench, Albany's chances went with her.

West Virginia, seeded second in the Louisville region, immediately erupted for a 16-2 run, and Albany never quite recovered in a 76-61 loss on Sunday.

"I'm very proud of my team," said Albany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, whose team was trying to become the first No. 15 seed to win an NCAA tournament game. "They completed and competed to the end and finished the game as fighters."

Craig finished with 23 points, not enough overcome the 33-11 deficit Albany had after the Mountaineers big first-half surge.

"I was just itching to get back out there as quick as I could," Craig said. "But I knew I couldn't afford to get into any more foul trouble, particularly in the first half. I just knew that I had to do whatever I could once I was able to get back into the game."

Albany leading scorer and America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards also got into foul trouble and was limited to only nine points before fouling out with four minutes remaining in the game.

Sara Royals scored 14 points for Albany (28-5), which fell behind by as much as 22 for mounting a desperate comeback attempt.

Albany managed to cut the lead to 56-51 with less than seven minutes to go, but West Virginia immediately responded by scoring the next four points to push the lead back to 60-51, securing the victory and its berth in the second round.

"Having Shereesha and Megan in foul trouble was just the difference in the game," Abrahamson-Henderson said. "That changed the entire offensive outlook. We had to change out a lot of stuff and look to some other players to get points. We just couldn't get over the top once we got it down to five in the second half."

Indeed, West Virginia's defense held Albany scoreless for nearly six minutes during the run that followed Craig's second foul.

"It was more of our defense that was the biggest reason we went on our run like we did," West Virginia guard Bria Holmes said. "It got things going with us offensively and allowed us to score a lot of points quickly when their girl (Craig) went out of the game."

Christal Caldwell scored 26 points and Holmes added 20 for West Virginia (30-4), which moved on to a second-round matchup Tuesday night with host LSU, the No. 7 seed.

Averee Fields added 10 points for the Mountaineers, who had already set a school record for victories in a season and have their highest ever seeding in an NCAA tournament.

"We attacked the basket and did what we are supposed to do," Carey said. "We passed the ball extremely well."