|West Virginia players Christal Caldwell, Asya Bussie and Brooke Hampton join coach Mike Carey at Monday afternoon's NCAA tournament news conference in Baton Rouge, La.
|WVU Photographic Services/M.G. Ellis photo
The mantra all season long for the West Virginia University women’s basketball team has been the lack of respect the program has received nationally - this despite making NCAA tournament appearances almost an annual occurrence these days.
Well, the Mountaineers can change that with tonight’s NCAA tournament second round game against LSU. The problem is, West Virginia is going to have to do it on the Tigers’ home floor in Baton Rouge, La.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game and it’s going to be a tough atmosphere, but we’ve played in tough atmospheres this year,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey.
Carey, now in his 13th season at West Virginia, has done a phenomenal job of turning around a WVU program that once had trouble producing .500 seasons. This is his eighth NCAA tournament appearance since 2004, and the fifth straight dating back to 2010.
However, the Mountaineers have yet to journey past the second round and have only reached the Sweet 16 once in program history in 1992 when the field was then only 48 teams.
Reaching the Sweet 16 and going beyond is clearly the next step for Carey’s women's program.
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The No. 2-seeded West Virginia women’s basketball team will face No. 7-seeded LSU in in the NCAA Second Round at 9:45 p.m. ET, on Tuesday, March 25.
“First of all, there are good teams in the NCAA and if you look at our seedings in the past, usually we were playing a No. 1 seed or a No. 2 seed the second round, and it’s been tough,” Carey explained. “Don’t get me wrong, we should have probably won a couple of those and we didn’t, and we have an opportunity here.”
Indeed, the matchups have not always been favorable for West Virginia.
In 2004, the Mountaineers played six-seeded Ohio State on its home floor and lost 73-67 in a first-round game.
In 2007, after defeating sixth-seeded Xavier in the first round, West Virginia was knocked out of the tournament on a neutral floor by third-seeded LSU.
Same deal in 2008: WVU defeated New Mexico on its home floor before losing to fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in the Pit.
In 2011 and 2012, West Virginia got past its first round games against Houston and Texas, only to run up against No. 1 seeded Baylor in 2011 and No. 1 seeded Stanford in 2012.
And last year, West Virginia lost to sixth-seeded Delaware on its home floor.
West Virginia’s best opportunity to move on came in 2010 when the No. 3-seeded Mountaineers lost to 11-seed San Diego State in Austin, Texas. That was the one opportunity that got away.
Now, West Virginia has another opportunity tonight against seventh-seeded LSU.
“My philosophy is if you can get to that point (reaching the second round), eventually hopefully you win one,” said Carey. “If you keep knocking on the door, hopefully it’s going to open up for you a little bit.”
LSU is certainly not going to be a cakewalk on its home floor. Two days ago, the Tigers ran 10th-seeded Georgia Tech out of the gym in a 20-point victory. Before that game, LSU had won only once in its last seven outings after posting an 18-5 record at one point in the season.
“This group, they are motivated, and our team is very excited to be able to play another game,” said LSU coach Nikki Caldwell.
The Mountaineers, with five seniors, have performed well away from the Coliseum this season, winning big road games at Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor to capture a share of the Big 12 regular season title.
“We expect them to come out hot and try and get the crowd involved, but we just have to play our defense,” said senior center Asya Bussie
. “We expect it to be a roller coaster and play until the end, and I think it’s going to be a full 40-minute game and it’s going to come down to the stretch.”
“I think the most important thing in tournament play is just take one game at a time and focus on the present and not the future, because you don’t know exactly who you’re going to play in the next round anyway,” added senior guard Brooke Hampton
. “I think just one game at a time and advancing into the next round is the most important thing.”
That is particularly true for West Virginia, a program craving national attention and respect.
“This group has not gone that far,” admitted Carey. “I guarantee you that they’re hungry to move on.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” he added. “You go to the NCAA tournament and you’re going to play tough games, and you’re not going to play them at your home arena. If you want to move on to the next level you have to play against good teams, and sometimes you have to play them on their home floor.”
Despite what’s on the line tonight, Carey said his approach remains the same.
“I don’t think you can reinvent yourself at tournament time,” he said. “I mean you are what you are. You play 20-some games and you either won or lost those games. Now, you may make some adjustments and you may play your starters a little bit linger, or you may do certain things during the course of the game, but you’re really not going to reinvent what you’ve done all year long. I just believe you go with what you’ve been successful with.”
Tip off is set for 9:45 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.