MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – With postseason play quickly approaching, the West Virginia University women’s basketball team knows that it still needs a few more wins to solidify its chances of making the NCAA Tournament.
The team has an opportunity to do that with two regular season games remaining, including Saturday’s game at Cincinnati, where the Mountaineers (19-8, 9-5 BIG EAST) will take on the Bearcats (15-12, 6-8 BIG EAST) at Fifth Third Arena in a 2 p.m. tip.
West Virginia will be facing a Cincinnati team that comes into Saturday’s contest on a four-game winning streak, and has won six of its last seven games with the only loss coming to No. 15 Georgetown. Its wins have come against Syracuse, Marquette (twice), Providence, Pitt, and Seton Hall.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence now and we probably aren’t and we’re playing at their place and they’ve won four in a row,” head coach Mike Carey said. “We’ll have to go up there and play.”
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers head into Saturday’s game looking to bounce back from two tough losses to No. 21 DePaul and No. 20 St. John’s.
“I think the girls have worked hard and they’ve bought in but now we’re going through a little bit of a lull that we have to come out of and come out of quickly,” Carey said. “I tried to wake them up a little bit yesterday in practice and they responded very, very well and we just have to have a good practice today and go into the Cincinnati game and get better.”
Junior guard Dayeesha Hollins paves the way for the Bearcats in scoring with 14.6 points per game. She’s led the team in scoring in 11 games and is also the team leader in steals with 50 on the season so far.
Behind Hollins, senior guard Bjonee Reaves scores averages 13.2 points per game and presents the biggest threat from beyond the arc as she’s made 71 treys this season.
With 2.6 threes per game, Reaves holds the second-highest 3-point average in the BIG EAST. Altogether, Cincinnati averages 5.6 threes per game on 31.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Following Reaves and Hollins, redshirt-senior guard Chanel Chisholm is averaging 9.1 points per game.
Defensively, sophomore forward Tiffany Turner leads the Bearcats on the glass with 5.9 rebounds per game. Behind her, Chisholm pulls down 5.8 rebounds per game while sophomore forward Jeanise Rudolph averages 5.5 rebounds per game.
“Cincinnati has great guards; they shoot the threes but also have guards that can get into the paint and drive on you and create and make things happen and that’s been hurting us here of late,” Carey said.
Junior Asya Bussie currently leads the Mountaineers in scoring, as she averages 12.0 points per game in addition to 6.8 rebounds per game. She also leads West Virginia in blocked shots with 65 on the season.
Behind Bussie, redshirt-sophomore Christal Caldwell is second on the team in scoring with an average of 11.9 points per game. She’s now recorded double-figure scoring numbers in each of the last 15 games including consecutive 20-point outings against Georgetown and Marquette.
Sophomore Taylor Palmer rounds out the top three in scoring, with 11.6 points per game including a team-leading 64 threes.
Defensively, West Virginia’s scoring defense (50.8) ranks sixth best nationally while its field-goal percentage defense (32.5) is the third-lowest nationally.
Out-rebounded just twice in league play this year, the Mountaineers are led on the glass by redshirt-junior Ayana Dunning, who holds the fourth-highest rebounding average in the league with 8.6 rebounds per game. She had double-doubles during the last two games against DePaul and St. John’s, with 12 points and 14 rebounds against the Blue Demons and 21 points and 16 rebounds against the Red Storm.
Behind Dunning and Bussie, Caldwell averages 6.4 rebounds per game.
“I read our stats off to the players as far as offensive stats and they haven’t changed,” ended Carey. “What has changed is our defense; we’re not playing with the intensity we were playing with and we’re not playing as hard and we’re not communicating as much as we were in the past so there’s where we have to pick it up. We can pick it up on defense and we can pick it up on rebounds and those are categories that we can’t take a rest in. We have to continue to dominate the boards and we have to get stops.”
Live audio and stats for Saturday’s game, along with a full recap, will be provided by MSNsportsNET.com.