By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
December 8, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – After watching the West Virginia women’s basketball team play its first eight games, it is clear that a variety of scoring options have helped sustain its annual fast beginning.
This is the third straight season that West Virginia has gotten off to a 7-1 start, routinely holding its own early in nonconference play. Already boasting a home win over Marist and a neutral-site victory over Iowa, Coach Mike Carey believes there are several reasons why this year’s team can continue its early-season success.
“I think we’re a lot longer, stronger and deeper than we were last year, and we have a lot of people that can score,” Carey said. “I think it makes us harder to defend. We have a post presence - not to take anything away from Natalie (Burton) because she was here last year - but Asya (Bussie) gives us the presence and size that can score, and that makes her harder to guard right now.”
On the stat sheet, three Mountaineers are averaging double-figures, with junior Liz Repella leading the team at 14.9 points per game. Bussie, a freshman center, is showing why she is one of the school’s most prized recruits with a 12.6 average. Minnesota transfer Korinne Campbell, a do-it-all forward, sits at third with 10.4 points per game.
But the touches for this season’s team don’t end with the aforementioned trio. There are capable, proven scorers throughout who have been contributing in their own ways. The result is a defensive game plan by opponents that doesn’t involve stopping just one player.
“I think teams can’t just come in here and just defend Liz Repella. I think it’s huge for this team,” Carey added. “We thought we could have people who could score between Bussie, Campbell, (Madina) Ali, and even Sarah Miles. If you look at Sarah, her assist/turnover rate is very good, and she’s given up a lot of her scoring for the team.”
Miles averaged 12.2 points last season on 329 field goal attempts. She switched roles between point guard and shooting guard, and was forced to carry much of the burden with Repella and former Mountaineer Takisha Granberry.
This season, Miles’ numbers aren’t as big so far but she has been just as effective. Miles is averaging 9.6 points, but because she has more offensive options this season, she already has 55 assists. She has proven her ability to shoot at mid-range and drive to the basket, but now she is even more multi-dimensional by having viable options to pass to.
“She’s gotten other people involved and you have to give her a lot of credit,” Carey said. “She’s converted from a two-guard to a one-guard all of the sudden and this is her first year of doing that. I think she’s doing a great job.”
WVU has not been short of key contributors in the early going, but Carey continues to be impressed the quick progression of Bussie.
The Randallstown, Md., native is playing beyond her years, continuously improving game by game in the post and on the boards. Her play has even surprised Carey a bit despite her being a top 50 recruit, but he cautions that the toughest thing for Bussie to do is continue her good stretch during conference play.
“She’s scoring a little more than we thought she would at this time,” Carey said. “She has to continue to get stronger and sit down in the post, and once she plays against some post players her size we’ll see where she’s at.”
West Virginia’s execution in its last two games was like night and day. After beating Radford despite forcing 23 turnovers last Wednesday, the Mountaineers were much more poised, especially in the second half, in their best shooting effort of the season against Maine on Saturday.
“I was happy at halftime that we made our adjustments and they come out and followed through with their adjustments,” Carey said of his team’s effort against the Black Bears. “They took care of the basketball better, we kicked the ball inside against the zone and got some easy ones for Asya Bussie. Those were things we were trying to get them to do during the first half, we just couldn’t get them to do it. Second half we were able to do that, and because of that, we were able to cut down on turnovers.”
The Mountaineers face Eastern Kentucky of the Ohio Valley Conference on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The Colonels are riding a four-game winning streak and have a formidable player in forward/center Alex Jones, who averages 11.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.
“They’re a pretty good basketball team. They’re a little bit undersized, their center is about 6-1 and she’ll take our centers away from the bucket and try to take them off the dribble. I’m a little bit concerned about that.”
West Virginia continues to steadily rise in both the Associated Press and ESPN Coaches’ Poll. After starting the season with no votes in the AP, WVU is now receiving 14. The Mountaineers started out receiving one vote in the preseason coaches’ poll, and now have 11.
Although unofficial, CollegeRPI.com says West Virginia is doing well through the early part of the season. Through games of Dec. 2, the Mountaineers sit with a 31 RPI. Considering West Virginia plays in one of the toughest conferences in the country, getting some wins against quality opponents in BIG EAST play will bolster their tournament resume tremendously. That task, of course, is easier said than done.