They call it the “Golden Goal” in soccer when a team scores the winning goal in overtime. Well, Sunday’s victory at second-ranked Notre Dame could very well turn out to be the “Golden Win” for the West Virginia women’s basketball program.
And to think, it came underneath the Golden Dome.
“It’s a great win for us,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “We needed this one bad and we were able to get it.”
Sunday’s victory, coupled with a 16-point triumph over then-12th-ranked Louisville eight days ago, charts a different course for the Mountaineers.
Less than a month ago when West Virginia blew a 10-point halftime lead and lost to Providence, 51-48, a trip to the WNIT seemed the most likely destination for Mike Carey’s young team that starts two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. Now, six wins later, West Virginia has a much bigger target in its sights and these last two victories have made a third straight NCAA tournament appearance much more of a likelihood.
WVU has gone from the middle of the pack in the Big East standings a couple of weeks ago to fourth place as of Monday morning, a ½ game ahead of nationally ranked Georgetown and a game behind third-place St. John’s, which also got a big win on Sunday at 16th-ranked Rutgers.
Before the Louisville victory on Feb. 4, the only win West Virginia could really hang its hat on was a 78-53 triumph over a Boston University team that is now 19-6 and sits atop the America East standings. Heading into Sunday’s Notre Dame game, West Virginia’s RPI was 52, which clearly placed the Mountaineers on the NCAA tournament bubble.
A Thanksgiving win against then-25th-ranked UCLA seemed to be valuable at the time, but the Bruins have recently dropped two straight at Cal and Stanford and are now 12-12 on the season. The Mountaineers’ other non-conference wins have come against teams with records right around the .500 mark, with the exception of 3-21 North Carolina Central and 4-21 Bucknell.
West Virginia’s non-conference losses have come against 24-2 St. Bonaventure, 14-10 Cal-Northridge and 17-8 Duquesne, while in league play the Mountaineers have lost to 23-2 Connecticut, 13-12 Providence and 19-6 Georgetown.
That’s why Sunday’s win over a Notre Dame team that had won 21 straight was so important for West Virginia.
“We have so many new players and after losing five players last year and almost 90 percent of our offense, for these girls to get this type of win on the road, it will do a lot for their confidence,” said Carey. “We have to build on this and we cannot be satisfied with it.”
Asya Bussie, who scored a career-high 22 against the Irish, agrees.
“It’s a big win for us, but it doesn’t mean anything, though, if we don’t get these next couple games coming up,” she said.
WVU (18-6) is in the midst of a four-game stretch against ranked teams with two more to go: 16th-ranked Rutgers on Wednesday night at the Coliseum and then 22nd-ranked DePaul in Morgantown on Saturday. Plus, St. John’s could be poised to crack the Top 25 after its nine-point win at Rutgers on Sunday afternoon. West Virginia faces the Jonnies in Jamaica, N.Y., on Feb. 21.
After that, West Virginia winds up the regular season with a road game at 13-12 Cincinnati on Feb. 25 and then the rematch against 8-16 Pitt in Morgantown on Feb. 27.
“When you play in the Big East – we have five more games – and I told the team after the game, enjoy this, but you need to start thinking about Rutgers, another ranked team,” said Carey.
A couple more wins like Sunday’s and the rest of us will be thinking about a lot more than that.