MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The beginning of January signifies an important part of the basketball season. It usually marks the opening of conference play, and provides an opportunity for teams to evaluate their progress and see exactly where they stand.
Wednesday afternoon marks the second game of Big East competition for the sixth-ranked Mountaineers (14-0, 1-0 BE), as they travel to South Orange, N.J. to take on Seton Hall in a 12:30 p.m. tip. Without a doubt, the contest will provide plenty of opportunity for evaluation, both positive and negative.
“These Big East teams won’t be a breeze,” explained guard Sarah Miles. “Each Big East team is good and there are a lot of teams that have gone out there and beat ranked opponents. We’re really going to know where we are after we experience more Big East play.”
Despite a slow season start from the Pirates (7-7, 0-1 BE), they are still expected to present a challenge for the Mountaineers, who are currently 4-6 against Seton Hall under coach Mike Carey, including a 1-3 mark at Walsh Gymnasium. Overall, West Virginia trails 11-10 in the series.
“The atmosphere is difficult,” Coach Carey said. “The gym has a stage at one end and they don’t have large crowds and it just seems like we go up there and just go through the motions. We just have to go up there and stay focused. Seton Hall has picked up a couple of athletic guards and they play hard and the system is a little bit different so we’ll see what happens.”
The Pirates expect to be led by junior forward and leading scorer Kandice Green, who currently averages 12 points per game. In Seton Hall's last outing against Rhode Island (where the Pirates took a double-overtime decision) Green put up 17 points and took down six boards. She also leads the team in rebounding, averaging 9.2 per game.
“Seton Hall is definitely good based on what we’ve seen,” Miles detailed. “They have a lot of great guards, and they’re good at every position. Green is amazing; she’s been first team all-Big East on Seton Hall. This team has a lot of athletes.”
Junior guard Jasmine Crew comes in second in scoring behind Green, as she averages 10.8 points per game while also coming in second on the team in assists, with 25 on the season. Against Rhode Island, she scored a career-high 20 points in a school-record 43 minutes of play.
Other notable players to keep an eye on include freshman guard Ka-Diedre Simmons, who is third on the team in scoring with 9.5 points per game, and first on the team in steals with 26. Junior center Tajay Ashmeade comes in second in rebounding, taking down an average of 6.1 boards per game to contribute to the fourth-highest offensive rebounding average (16.4 rebounds per game) in the league.
On the other side of the court, the Mountaineers are experiencing the best start to a season in program history. Sitting at 14-0, the team remains the last undefeated team in the Big East, and now holds the longest active win streak in the nation. And despite its current 4-6 record against Seton Hall, West Virginia has the advantage of having won the last meeting, 70-42, in February of 2008.
West Virginia expects to start Miles and Liz Repella at guard, Asya Bussie at center, and Korinne Campbell and Madina Ali at forward on Wednesday. Repella and Ali are predicted to lead the Mountaineer scoring efforts, as they average 13.6 and 13.1 points per game, respectively. Repella also leads the team in steals with 32, and 3-pt field goals made, with 23.
Despite moving down to second on the team in scoring, Ali currently shoots 59.8 percent from the field, a statistic good enough for the fourth highest average in the Big East, while fellow senior Campbell led West Virginia with 17 points and nine rebounds in the Mountaineers' last game against Seton Hall.
Defensively, Bussie and Miles could be the key difference makers for West Virginia. Bussie currently leads the team in blocked shots with 25, tying for fifth-most in the Big East. And Miles had a career-high nine steals in her last outing, despite it being her first start in eight games.
A live radio broadcast of the game will be available on MSNsportsNET.com with Travis Jones on the call.