WACO, TX – The Mountaineers are familiar with postseason play in Texas. In fact, you could almost say it’s beginning to turn into a tradition, with three out of seven NCAA Tournament appearances taking place in the Lone Star State.
Previously, West Virginia had played in Houston, Corpus Christi, Lubbock and Amarillo. This year, the team earned a placement as the No. 9-seed in the Dallas Region, where they’ll play a first round game against No. 8-seed Houston in Waco on Sunday afternoon. Tipoff is set for 5:10 p.m.
Currently, the Mountaineers (23-9) hold a 2-0 series advantage over the Cougars (26-5), who are making their sixth appearance at the tournament in program history. The last meeting between the teams occurred on November 30, 2006. West Virginia defeated Houston, 73-47, at the Coliseum on that date.
But this may very well be a different Houston team than the one the Mountaineers are familiar with facing with new leadership at the helm of the program. This year, the Cougars posted a perfect 16-0 record in Conference USA, having been coached by Conference USA Coach of the Year Todd Buchanan in his first season. And they also have the league’s two-time player of the year and defensive player of the year in forward Courtney Taylor. Add in the fact that the Cougars have a little bit of home court advantage, and Houston presents a very tough challenge.
“They’re a very athletic team,” coach Carey said. “They have a good post and are very physical. They also get up and down the floor. But they do have a tendency to turn it over so I think if we can get up into the passing lanes and create some turnovers maybe we can get some easy shots down at the other end.”
Despite problems with turning the ball over, Houston still poses a threat as it contains four players who average in double figures in scoring. Taylor leads the team, with 15.7 points per game in addition to pulling down 11.4 rebounds per game. She’s followed by guard Brittney Scott who averages 15.6 points per game, and guard Porsche Landry and forward Lesslee Mason who average 15 and 11 points, respectively.
“They’re a really good team,” Liz Repella said. “They have very balanced scoring; three girls are averaging about 15 points a game. One’s averaging a double-double so we’re really going to have to concentrate on boxing her out.”
In addition to being a scoring threat, Mason also pulls down 9.1 boards per game and leads the team in steals (67).
“I feel like they remind us of Georgetown or any aggressive guard team here in the BIG EAST,” Sarah Miles said. “They’re guards are really aggressive and really good so a lot of their scoring comes from their guards.”
After suffering a disappointing loss in the second round of the BIG EAST Tournament, the Mountaineers have had nearly two weeks to prepare for this first round game. Something that both Carey and Repella feels the team has taken advantage of.
“We had a good week in practice and the girls went hard,” Carey explained. “We were very focused and we really scouted two teams. We scouted Houston and if we’re fortunate enough to win that one then we scouted Baylor. We played Prairie View before so we know a little bit about them. So we scouted two teams and we did a lot of things in practice for both teams instead of just one team.”
“These last three or four days of practices were the best of the year, in my opinion,” Repella added. “Everyone came out with a lot of energy and executed well. We were also getting extra shots up before and after practice.”
The Mountaineers are making their fifth appearance at the NCAA Tournament under Carey, with seven current players combining for 428 minutes of experience, 115 points and 78 rebounds. Senior Korinne Campbell has collected the most minutes, as she played her sophomore season for Minnesota.
Repella leads all current Mountaineers in NCAA Tournament scoring, as she has posted 33 points in four games (8.3 ppg), with a career-best 17 points last year against San Diego State. She posted a double-double in both rounds of last season’s tournament, while fellow senior Sarah Miles had double-figure scoring games in each.
West Virginia will look to this leadership again. Repella has led the team in scoring for much of the season, posting 13.9 points per game and leading the team in steals (66). She’s followed by Madina Ali, who scores 12.7 points per game while leading the team in rebounding (7.0 rpg).
With an average of 8.7 points per game, Miles comes in third on the team in scoring, and is only 16 points away from reaching the 1,000-point milestone. A San Antonio native, the team’s leader in assists (108) will be playing in a homecoming of sorts.
Sophomore Asya Bussie, the team leader in blocks (53) and Campbell are expected to round out the five starters.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com, with Pam Ward and Stephanie White providing play by play analysis and color commentary. In addition, MSN radio will provide a live broadcast with Travis Jones on the call.