MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia had a tall task on their hands against Texas Wednesday night – literally.
What the Longhorns lacked in marksmanship they more than made up for in size, sometimes getting three or four shots at the basket in a single offensive set in a game West Virginia was able to pull out late, 53-49.
Texas started one 6-7 girl (Imani McGee-Stafford) and brought two 6-4 girls (Sara Hattis and Cokie Reed) off the bench. There were also occasions when McGee-Stafford and Reed played at the same time.
And that was actually when West Virginia had its best offensive run of the game, building a nine-point first half lead by spreading out the much bigger, and much slower, Longhorns.
“We tried to use our quickness and we tried to get to their legs,” explained West Virginia junior guard Christal Caldwell
, who scored 16 points against the Texas skyline. “A lot of times we were boxing out but they could just reach over us. We just have to learn how to step back and hit them early and not wait until they get into the paint and then box out because 6-5, 6-6 … we’re not going to get away with that.”
What West Virginia (9-5, 1-2) was able to get away with was moving 6-3 senior center YaYa Dunning out to the elbow on offense to take McGee-Stafford away from the basket. If McGee-Stafford was slow getting to Dunning she had enough space to hit the medium range jumper, and if she came out too far then Dunning had enough quickness to get past her to the rim.
Dunning finished the game going 9 of 17 from the floor for a game-high 19 points.
“We wanted to face up the bigger girl and then go around them because of our quickness,” explained Dunning. “But since they were so far off I just took those shots and then when they closed up myself and (6-0 sophomore forward) Averee (Fields), then we tried to go around them.”
Wednesday night's win against Texas was big because the Big 12 is, well, extremely big as West Virginia is finding out. Later in the year, the Mountaineers will have to go up against Baylor’s 6-8 center Brittney Griner and figuring out how to play against much bigger teams is something WVU is going to need to do in order to be successful.
“Baylor is big like this,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “A lot of teams have one or two, but not this many as what they have. I thought we did a good job several times then the 6-7 freshman shot over top us for a seven-footer and it went in. YaYa is on top of her and she just flipped it in.”
Perhaps the most important thing the Mountaineers accomplished was not getting discouraged when they got shots tipped or struggled to get rebounds on the defensive end of the floor. Texas only finished the game with three blocked shots and a 46-39 advantage on the glass, but the much taller Longhorns altered several shots close to the basket and forced many of the 15 turnovers West Virginia committed for the game.
Carey said he simply does not have that kind of size for his players to go against in practice.
“It’s tough, but they have just got to learn,” he said. “That was a good experience for them against bigger players because we’re going to face some other big girls. The Big 12 is big and we’ve just got to continue to get better at what we’re doing against them.”
Another area Carey was pleased with was the team’s ability to adjust to the way Big 12 officials are calling games. In West Virginia’s first two losses to Oklahoma and Kansas, the Mountaineers committed 57 fouls and sent their opponents to the line 73 times. Tonight, Texas went to the foul line just 12 times.
“We have been really harping on hands and moving their feet – and we played a lot of zone tonight,” said Carey. “Those two games before, our best players are sitting on the bench in a tied game or a one-point game and we couldn’t play them because they had either fouled out or had four fouls.
“We just tried to keep it close, keep it close and then get into the last four minutes with our best players on the floor,” said Carey.
The planned worked.
Now the Mountaineers will have another tall task on Saturday afternoon at 10-4 Kansas State. Such is life in the Big 12.
“I told our girls that we needed to win a game,” said Carey. “I wasn’t going to go over everything that they did wrong, I just said ‘Listen, get in here to practice tomorrow and let’s get ready for Kansas State on Saturday.’ Believe me, practice will be more fun (Thursday) than it would have been if we lost.”