WVU's Difference Makers
It’s not an accident that the West Virginia women are now 13-1 and on the cusp of making a return to the top 25 with big home games on the horizon against seventh-ranked Baylor tonight and against Texas on Sunday.
That’s because senior Asya Bussie is back in the Mountaineer lineup, and rising sophomore Bria Holmes is beginning to show everyone why she was one of the most highly sought-after high school players to ever sign with West Virginia University.
Holmes is one of just two McDonald’s All-Americans to play for the WVU women, the other being LSU transfer Ya Ya Dunning. Holmes and Bussie are the types of players you typically see at UConn, Stanford, Tennessee, and, yes, tonight’s opponent Baylor.
“You see about eight or 10 of them at UConn,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey admitted, “but we’re fortunate to get Bria and we need to keep developing her; if she does she’s going to be a special player.”
What makes Holmes so unique is her size (6-feet-2), tremendous athletic skills, explosiveness, and her ability to score off the dribble. West Virginia has had good jump shooters and good post players in the past, just not one in the same.
“She can get hot from the 3, but yet she has the ability, because of her size, to attack the paint and get in there and make stuff happen in the paint,” he said. “She also has the ability to make people shoot over top of her. It’s a little bit tougher shooting over a 6-2 perimeter player than it is a 5-8 perimeter player.”
Carey has spent the last two years reminding Holmes how good she can be, and we got a glimpse of that during last Saturday’s 71-67 win at 12-1 Oklahoma State. The New Haven, Conn., resident scored a game-high 21 points and hit several big shots to keep the Mountaineers in the game.
Holmes is now averaging 14.1 points per contest, a close second to Bussie’s team-leading 14.3 points-per-game average.
“(Holmes) has a great first step as far as quickness,” says Carey. “I said this last year that she is just going to get better and better and better. There are other phases of her game that I think she’s going to improve on over the next year, and I think she’s going to be a complete player for us.”
“Bria brings a lot of energy,” mentioned Bussie. “She’s just so explosive and athletic and we haven’t had that. She knocks down shots and she’s just very, very important to the team.”
It takes one to know one; Bussie is also an extremely important player for the Mountaineers.
Last year, with Bussie recovering from a serious knee injury, West Virginia plodded along to a 17-14 record and a middle-of-the pack finish in the Big 12 - one year after winning 24 games and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament during her junior season in 2013.
Like Holmes, Bussie, from Randallstown, Md., gives West Virginia another rare combination of size and outstanding athletic ability.
“I’ve said since her freshman year that she’s the best defensive post player in the country the way she can move her feet, switch out and help and recover,” said Carey of Bussie. “And when she demands the ball she can score. She’s a threat in the paint and you have to guard her.”
When the Mountaineers were going through some rough stretches last year in their first season in the Big 12, Carey would often look over at his bench and wish he had Bussie in the game to stop the other team or score a big basket. There were things he just couldn’t do offensively and defensively because Bussie wasn't on the floor.
“I actually wanted to do something to the practice player, to be honest with you,” Carey joked. “Asya is a great young lady and she works so hard. She deserves everything that she gets because she’s such a good person.”
Bussie is probably the most underappreciated player West Virginia has had because a lot of what she does goes unnoticed during games, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
“She’s not flashy,” Carey said. “She just does her job.”
Perhaps the biggest difference Bussie has made this season is her ability to keep her teammates out of foul trouble. Last year, the Mountaineers were averaging almost 21 fouls per game and with the rule changes allowing more freedom of movement this season, West Virginia was the one team everyone thought would be the most affected because of Carey’s reputation for tough, physical play.
Well, West Virginia is actually fouling less this season and the reason is because Bussie is back in the post to help out the Mountaineers’ perimeter defenders.
“She’s a great weakside helper,” Carey noted. “Probably our biggest weakness right now is our rotations because Asya gets to the ball so well and helps so much that we don’t help her enough. Sometimes when you pick the picker on offense, well, sometimes you have to help the helper (on defense). That’s probably why we’re struggling on the boards.”
Struggling is a relative term, considering the Mountaineers are out-boarding their opponents by nearly 12 a game.
Still, Carey knows it will take a total team effort tonight against another very strong Baylor team that has won 12 of 13, and is killing teams on the glass despite no longer having 6-foot-8-inch center Brittney Griner.
Having outstanding players like Asya Bussie and Bria Holmes out on the floor will certainly help out, that’s for sure.
It will be interesting to see how much of a difference Bussie can make in the paint tonight – and if Holmes can take another giant leap forward toward stardom.
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