MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – On Tuesday night, the No. 14 West Virginia women’s basketball team will play host to Providence in a 7 p.m. tip. There’s no arguing that this particular game is crucial, for a couple of reasons.
First, the Mountaineers (19-3, 5-3 BIG EAST) lost back-to-back BIG EAST Conference road games against No. 17 Georgetown and No. 9 DePaul last week. Something that had not happened in 64 games. The last time West Virginia lost back-to-back games occurred against Georgetown on Feb. 18, 2009.
Secondly, the team is preparing to host BIG EAST foe Pitt on Saturday afternoon in the annual Pink Zone game. A win over Providence would provide a much needed momentum boost for the Mountaineers, allowing for a positive atmosphere when the two teams take to the court in their version of the Backyard Brawl. This atmosphere is not only needed against Pitt. It will also be needed when Connecticut comes to Morgantown on Feb. 8.
While these upcoming games hover in the background, West Virginia remains focused on the task at hand, playing for a win against the Friars (9-10, 2-5 BIG EAST). In order to win against Providence, changes need to be made to West Virginia’s attitude and performance.
“DePaul beat us in every phase of the game, including effort and including wanting to win,” explained coach Mike Carey. “We’re not playing with any urgency and we’re not playing with any emotions right now. We’re letting people attack us and we’re letting people knock us on the floor. We’re letting people take shots at our teammates and we’re not responding. We have to get our edge back.”
“It’s not only a loss but we didn’t play well,” added Liz Repella. “You can lose and play well and play hard but we didn’t do either of those. There’s no excuse for it.”
Providence arrives at the WVU Coliseum after suffering back-to-back losses of its own. The Friars fell at Rutgers, 60-39, on Jan. 22 and were defeated by St. John’s on Jan. 29 at home by a score of 69-53. Providence has taken league wins from Villanova and USF.
Sophomore guard Symone Roberts leads the Friars in scoring, averaging 10.6 points per game. With 43 steals, she holds the second highest steals per game average (2.7) in the league. Senior guard/forward Mi-Khida Hankins follows Roberts in scoring, with 9.9 points per game and ties with senior forward Teya Wright for the sixth highest rebounding average (7.8) in the league. Wright leads the BIG EAST in offensive rebounding, as she averages 4.1 offensive rebounds per game. Junior guard Miranda Tate rounds out the top three in scoring, putting up 9.4 points per game.
The Mountaineers only have one day to prepare for Providence, as scheduling and travel have cut into practice and training. An issue that has not gone unnoticed by Carey.
“I’d rather be having a week of practice,” Carey said. “It’s tough playing yesterday and then having only one day to come back and prep for Providence. We need practice time and we don’t have it right now.”
West Virginia will look to its five seniors and leaders to bring the team out of its current slump. Co-captain Liz Repella continues to lead the team in scoring, averaging 13.7 points per game. She leads the team in steals (45), and comes in second on the team in blocks (27) and rebounding (5.3 rpg). She’s also unhappy with the way the team performed in both of its games last week.
“We went into both games wanting to win and thinking we could win,” she said. “We just didn’t produce and that’s our fault. We take the blame for that. As seniors we have to pick up our play.”
Madina Ali currently follows Repella in scoring, with an average of 13.2 points per game. Shooting 57.4 percent (112-195) and leading the team in rebounds (7.0 rpg), Ali has proved to be an invaluable player. However, she recently suffered a fracture in her lower left leg that has started to affect her game.
“I’m real concerned,” Carey said. “She can’t jump like she was jumping; she’s not as active or as physical as she was. It’s not her fault; you have to give her a lot of credit. She’s playing on a stress fracture. A lot of people wouldn’t be playing. I have to keep watching it and there may come a time where we have to shut it down and there may not come a time when we have to shut it down but I’ll deal with the trainers and see where we’re at. I just haven’t made a decision on that yet.”
With Repella and Ali limited by DePaul’s defense on Sunday, Asya Bussie and Sarah Miles stepped up, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectively. Miles has scored in the double-digits in the last three outings, while Bussie leads the team in blocks (40) in addition to her scoring efforts. Korinne Campbell rounds out the top five scorers, averaging 6.0 points per game.
West Virginia leads the all-time series, 16-4, and is 10-2 against the Friars under the direction of Carey. The Mountaineers also hold an 8-0 record against Providence in the Coliseum.
The contest will be aired on WVPBS, with Hoppy Kercheval and Warren Baker providing play-by-play and analysis. In addition, the game will be streamed live on MSNsportsNET.com. Live audio will also be provided with Travis Jones and Jay Jacobs on the call.