MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – For the fifth consecutive game, the West Virginia University women’s basketball team will face a ranked opponent as it travels to play No. 20 St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday night in a 7 p.m. tip.
On paper, the Mountaineers (19-7, 9-4 BIG EAST) and the Red Storm (18-8, 10-3 BIG EAST) are very similar to one another.
For one thing, they both limit opponents to lower scoring games as St. John’s averages 61.7 points per game and West Virginia averages 66.1 points per game while limiting opponents to 54.8 and 50.8 points per game, respectively.
Both teams have also peaked at the right time, as St. John’s has won seven of its last eight games, while West Virginia has won five of its last six.
And perhaps most importantly, they’ve both upset the No. 2 team in the country, with just one week separating the stunning victories.
Just over a week ago, West Virginia traveled to then-No. 2 Notre Dame, defeating the Fighting Irish, 65-63, on two free throws from sophomore Brook Hampton with four seconds remaining. The win snapped Notre Dame’s 21-game winning streak.
And this past Sunday night, then-unranked St. John’s traveled to then-No. 2 Connecticut, defeating the Huskies, 57-56, on a 3-pointer by junior guard Shenneika Smith with eight seconds remaining. The win snapped Connecticut’s 99-game home court winning streak.
“They did a good job defensively on Connecticut making them shoot over the top and getting some steals and some easy ones down the other end,” said head coach Mike Carey. “They’re just as athletic as anybody in the league so if you let them into the paint and you let them transition it’s going to be a long night.”
Four players are currently averaging in double figures for St. John’s. Smith leads the way with 12.7 points per game. She’s followed by junior guard Eugeneia McPherson who averages 12.6 points per game and by junior guard Nadirah McKenith and senior forward Da’Shena Stevens who round out the top four with 11.7 and 10.7 points per game, respectively.
Additionally, Smith leads the team in blocked shots (35) and in rebounds (6.8 rebounds per game).
“She (Smith) penetrates and on the break she gets into the paint and breaks people down,” Carey explained. “They all do. And their point guard is shooting the ball a little bit better. We just have to plan to keep them out of the paint and sit down and make them shoot over the top of us whether we’re in man or zone.”
The last time West Virginia and St. John’s met was during the second round of last year’s BIG EAST Tournament; St. John’s came away with the 59-51 win.
West Virginia currently has three players averaging in double figures as Asya Bussie leads the way with 12.2 points per game. She’s followed by Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer, who are both averaging 11.8 points per game.
Caldwell has recorded double-figure scoring numbers in each of the last 14 games, while Palmer leads West Virginia with 63 threes on the season.
Bussie is also the second-leading rebounder on the team, with 7.0 rebounds per game. Ayana Dunning leads the team on the boards, with 8.3 rebounds per game. Altogether, the Mountaineers have out-rebounded all but one league opponent, and their 10.1 rebounding margin is the third-highest in the BIG EAST.
“We have three games left and we know this is a tough one,” Carey ended. “We have two on the road and one at home. We just have to get ready to play and be focused.”
Tuesday night’s game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network. Live audio and stats along with a full recap of the game will be provided by MSNsportsNET.com.