Focus on boards key in Lady Bears victory

WVU Tech’s Whittney Justice drives and scores as Rio Grande’s Reagan Willingham defends Thursday night at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.Brad Davis/The Register-Herald

WVU Tech coach Anna Kowalska watched plenty of film to prepare for Rio Grande. There’s also something to be said for past experience.

“I was an assistant coach for eight years and now I’m the head coach, and we have always played Rio and they are always known as a rebounding team,” Kowalska said. “So I told (the players) we have to focus on rebounding.”

That the Lady Golden Bears did, and it helped them to a 102-89 win over the RedStorm in a key River States Conference game Thursday in Beckley.

The win gave Tech (14-6, 7-0 RSC) a two-game lead over Rio Grande in the East Division.

The Lady Bears have won 20 straight regular season conference games.

Attention to board work was obvious. Tech finished with a 46-28 advantage in that department.

“Rebounding was huge for us,” Kowalska said.

“We got 19 offensive rebounds. Sometimes we don’t get that in two or three games (combined).”

That led to 15 second-chance points for the Lady Bears, who ran their winning streak to eight games.

Kathylee Pinnock Branford led Tech with 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Brittney Justice scored 20 and Whittney Justice had 16 and nine rebounds. Freshman Brianna Ball narrowly missed a double-double with 12 points and nine boards, and Alex Gray finished with 15 points.

Tech took control in the second quarter, outscoring Rio Grande (12-8, 5-2) 22-6 over the first 6:27 to turn a one-point deficit into a 43-28 lead.

The RedStorm then made just one field goal in the final 2:40 and Tech ended the period on a 10-5 run to lead 53-39 at halftime.

Tech combined to score 64 points in the second and third quarters and led by as much as 20 at 86-66 less than a minute into the fourth. Still, Kowalska felt her team let Rio Grande do too much in the third.

“But I was expecting that from a good team,” she said. “They are going to answer somehow.”

They did, with a lot of help from Lexi Woods and Chyna Chambers.

The RedStorm went on a 10-0 run to cut its deficit to 86-76 at the 7:06 mark of the fourth. Later, an 8-2 spurt made it a six-point game at 92-86 with 1:44 to play.

Woods, who finished with a game-high 31 points, and Chambers combined for 16 points in the period.

“I think (her players) got too comfortable,” Kowalska said. “I keep telling them just because you are up by a lot of points, that doesn’t mean (the game is over). They are a good team, they are going to hit their shots and they can come back. You have to be always aware of that.”

Tech did score the last eight points of the game, six at the free throw line.

Chambers had 15 points and seven assists for Rio Grande. Avery Harper also scored 15 and grabbed seven rebounds.

Guard Sydney Holden was held to 10 points and turned the ball over nine times.

With a nice cushion in the standings, Tech will travel to Alice Lloyd on Tuesday. Tip-ff from Pippa Passes, Ky., will be 5:30 p.m.

Email: and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber

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