MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – For the West Virginia University women’s basketball team, the road doesn’t get any easier from here on out.
After stunning No. 2 Notre Dame on Sunday afternoon, 65-63, at the Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, Ind., the Mountaineers (18-6, 8-3 BIG EAST) have to turn around and face their third ranked opponent in as many games as they host No. 18 Rutgers on Wednesday night at the Coliseum at 7 p.m.
“That’s the problem with playing in the BIG EAST,” Coach Mike Carey said. “We have two more ranked teams coming up. I told them after the Notre Dame game to enjoy the evening but we play Rutgers on Wednesday and we have to start looking at them.”
What makes Rutgers dangerous is the fact that they enter the Coliseum on a four-game skid, having dropped games to then-No. 20 Georgetown, then-No. 2 Notre Dame, then-No. 3 Connecticut and St. John’s. It marks the first time since the 2003-04 season that they have lost four games in a row.
“Rutgers is probably the most physical team we’ll play all year,” Carey said. “Our games are always low scoring and very physical. They’ve lost four games in a row and I’m sure they’re going to be fighting in here on Wednesday.”
The Scarlet Knights (17-7, 6-5 BIG EAST) are led in scoring by senior guard April Sykes who leads a trio of scorers in double figures with 13.0 points per game. She’s followed by redshirt-senior guard Khadija Rushdan who’s averaging 12.9 points per game, and junior forward Monique Oliver who averages 12.3 points per game.
Rushdan returned to the Rutgers line-up against St. John’s, scoring 17 points in her first game back after missing two games due to a concussion.
“She gives them scoring and drives them and we’re going to really have to sit down on her,” said Carey. “If you stop her she’s going to keep trying to take it to the basket because she’s really aggressive. We’re going to have to be aggressive on her.”
Sykes is Rutgers’ biggest threat from 3-point range, as she leads the team having made 31 percent (31-of-100) of her attempts from beyond the arc, while Oliver paces the team on the boards as she pulls down 8.0 rebounds per game.
“Rutgers has a lot of talent and they have some veterans and they play lot of young freshmen also so it’s going to be a defensive game, no doubt in my mind,” Carey said.
The Mountaineers enter Wednesday’s game having defeated ranked opponents in consecutive games as they also defeated then-No. 12 Louisville, 66-50, on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Sophomore Taylor Palmer currently leads the team in scoring with 12.4 points per game. Behind her, junior Asya Bussie is averaging 12.2 points per game while redshirt-sophomore Christal Caldwell is averaging 11.5 points per game.
Bussie paved the way for the Mountaineers against Notre Dame, scoring a career-high 22 points and pulled down eight rebounds in the upset. She also earned BIG EAST Player of the Week honors for her performance.
ouisville.“I think our girls are playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said Carey. “With that being said, you’re only as good as your last game. All the positive things that have been said about us, if we lose to Rutgers it will turn around the other way. Our girls are smart enough to know that we have to stay focused and that you’re only as good as your last game.”
Defensively, West Virginia ranks fifth in scoring defense (49.8) and third in field-goal percentage defense (31.4). Additionally, the team’s rebounding margin of 9.9 ranks 12th nationally.
The Mountaineers have out-rebounded all but one league opponent this season.
Redshirt-junior Ayana Dunning leads the team with 8.0 rebounds per game, while Bussie averages 6.8 rebounds per game and Caldwell pulls down 6.7 rebounds per game.
“We have five games left and we still need to win games to get into the NCAA Tournament so we can’t take anything for granted,” ended Carey. “We have a great opportunity this week to play two ranked teams at home and we need to take advantage of that.”
Live streaming, live stats and a full recap of Wednesday’s game will be provided by MSNsportsNET.com.