Saturday had the makings of a bad day for the visiting Ohio Christian University women's basketball team.
The WVU Tech women made sure that came to fruition.
Using a swarming defense and its characteristic uptempo style offense, the Golden Bears laid waste to the visiting Trailblazers, 97-64, inside the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
"Our goal was to play defense, stop the ball and stop (Rachel Gillum), who is top nationally in rebounding," head coach Anna Kowalksa said. "I think we realized we needed to push the ball a little bit harder today. We are the most successful when we push tempo, rebound and don't slow down."
WVU Tech stepped on the accelerator from the opening tip, dealing Ohio Christian a blow from which it never recovered.
Scoring on their first five offensive possessions, the Golden Bears built a 13-3 lead just three minutes into the contest.
With the Trailblazers entering the game with a limited roster due to the Covid-19 virus, it was the start that Kowalska wanted from her team.
"We needed to start strong because we cannot sleep on any team," Kowalska explained. "Ohio Christian only has seven players right now because of the virus. We came out strong and we played at the level we needed to play."
Ohio Christian would cut the lead to seven at the two-minute mark of the first quarter, but its hopes were quickly squashed by the Golden Bears.
A bucket and a triple from freshman Emilee Whitt was sandwiched around a deuce from Brianna Ball to push the lead back to double digits, where it stayed for the remainder of the game.
Ball was a thorn in the side of the Trailblazers all afternoon, running the floor for easy buckets. The sophomore standout scored 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds to counter the inside presence of Gillum.
"She can be a great rebounder and run the floor to get layups. We told her she can do that day in and day out and today that was her focus," Kowalska said. "I told her before the game that she needed to set goals for herself and today I wanted at least two or three layups. All she needs to do is focus on her strengths and she will be really good."
Leading by 15 at halftime, WVU Tech (6-7) put the game away in the third period, led by senior Alexandria Gray. Nine points from Gray sparked a Golden Bears explosion that doubled-up the visitors, 64-32 with just over three minutes left in the quarter.
"(Alex) is a senior and this is her last year. I told her to not take any games for granted and keep playing hard. She has put in some extra work in the gym the past few days and it shows," Kowalska said.
Gray also grabbed six rebounds to go with her 11 points and three assists.
Further motivating the homestanding Golden Bears was a loss Tuesday at Rio Grande, snapping their 31-game regular season River States Conference win streak. It was a game in which Tech surrendered 93 points and it forced a fresh look on the defensive side of the ball.
"After we played Rio, we said that cannot happen anymore," Kowalska said. "Every day we have defensive goals and we take great pride in defense. In the tournament, defense wins games and that is definitely our focus."
Through three quarters Saturday, WVU Tech held Ohio Christian to 41 points.
"I think it really affected us," Kowalska said of the loss to Rio. "We now know that we are going to have to play really hard. It woke us up a little bit. I know with the virus there have been a lot of ups and downs, so we are just working to get better each day."
Brittney Justice barely missed a triple-double with 14 points, 18 rebounds and seven assists. ShanEttine Butler also had 14 points and was perfect from behind the arc on four attempts. Whitt finished with 10 points.
The Golden Bears won the rebounding battle in convincing fashion, 52-28 and as a team had 33 assists on 41 made baskets.
Tech's swarming defense held the Trailblazers (7-7) to just 20 field goals on 53 attempts.
"We played a team game today. I wanted them to share the ball, hit open players and run in transition," Kowalska said. "That is what we did and we were very successful."
WVU Tech is back in action Tuesday when it hosts Carlow University at 5 p.m.