WACO, Texas – From the minute the West Virginia women’s basketball team found out it was placed in Waco for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it knew that playing No. 1-seed Baylor was a strong possibility.
And now that strong possibility has become a reality, after Baylor’s dismantling of No. 16-seed Prairie View A&M, 66-30, at the Ferrell Center on Sunday night.
“We put ourselves in this position during the season, the No.8/No.9-seed position,” Coach Carey stated. “We know that. Now we have to play a No. 1-seed. But it seems like our girls do a great job when they are the underdog. There is no doubt in my mind they will come play hard. I think we will play better than we did against Houston, I honestly do. I think our girls will come out and be aggressive. We are going to go down swinging. We are not going to come into this game fearing anybody. We are going to come in and try to attack and do the things that we do.”
Back in February, the Mountaineers (24-9) had a chance to upset No. 1 Connecticut, missing out on the opportunity by only six points. They came out aggressive and swinging in that game also, a fact that has Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey paying attention.
“I see size inside, at six-foot-four and six-foot-three,” she said. “I see athleticism on the perimeter. I see a very well-coached defensive team in the half court. I think they are very physical and I think they are very well coached. I think they have athletes and size inside. It is going to be a very good basketball game. Any team that comes within six of Connecticut grabs your attention. They play in a great conference, the BIG EAST. It will be a tough basketball game for us.”
In order to pull out the win against Baylor, West Virginia will need to contain star sophomore center Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 athlete that leads the Bears (32-2) in scoring with an average of 22.6 points per game. In addition, she leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.8 rebounds per game. Of her 259 total rebounds, 172 of them have been defensive.
Griner has also amassed 148 blocks over the course of this season.
“She’s developed, there’s no doubt,” Carey said. “She’s a lot better now than she was two years ago. She’s a great player, one of the best in the country. She is doing a lot more offensively now than she could before.”
“I think the only different size advantage would be Brittney Griner,” Madina Ali added. “We have not faced anyone like her yet in the BIG EAST. I think it is a matter of boxing her out and getting her in early foul trouble. That would be a key to our game. She is a big factor to them and of course she is one of their biggest rebounders as well. Getting her out of the way and also blocking other players out and going for the rebounds will be important for us.”
The Mountaineers will play her off against their own star sophomore center, Asya Bussie. Coming in at 6-foot-4, this is a match-up that Bussie has participated in before, as she was pitted against Griner during her last season with her AAU team. Bussie has been averaging 8.2 points per game, and has blocked 54 shots this year.
Facing Griner presents a challenge that Bussie is excited to take on.
“I think it is different and it will be a good challenge to me, maybe to actually even prove something,” she said. “I am excited that we are playing against them.”
For Carey, the real key to winning this game lies within preventing Baylor freshman point guard Odyssey Sims from getting into her rhythm, and in remembering that the Bears have other talented players besides Griner that can score and play defense.
As a true freshman, Sims averages 13.5 points per game, second only to Griner. She also has 98 assists, second only to senior guard Melissa Jones who currently has 122. Redshirt sophomore forward Destiny Williams and Jones round out the top four in scoring, with 9.0 and 8.3 points per game, respectively.
“From all the film I have watched, all of the other players have wide open shots,” said Carey. “The reason they have wide open shots is because they are all sagging in on Griner. It’s a little bit easier to shoot wide open shots than it is with someone in your face. We’re going to give them that opportunity. We’re not going to sag as much. We’re going to make the other players earn their points. I think if Griner gets her 25 (points) then we will get our 26. (Baylor) is a great team, but we are as well. We can’t change everything we do just because of them.”
Lastly, Baylor has proven extremely adept at shooting from beyond the arc, averaging 5.2 field goals per game. They may have met their match in the Mountaineers, however, as West Virginia has held all opponents to an average of just 30.5 percent (130-426) when shooting from 3-point range.
In the first round game against Houston, several Mountaineers put in key performances to help lead the team to a win. Liz Repella posted a season-high 26 points, while Ali earned her 11th career double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Bussie chipped in 13 points as well.
Korinne Campbell and Sarah Miles round out the five expected starters for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia currently holds the 1-0 series advantage over the Bears, having pulled away a 73-67 victory on December 7, 1984 at the Dial Classic in Oxford, Miss.
Tipoff is set for 9:45 p.m. EST Tuesday, and the contest 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 broadcast the game with Travis Jones handling the call.