One More Mountain

After West Virginia's short stay at the Big East conference tournament earlier this month, the Mountaineers decided they weren't quite ready to hang up their sneaks just yet.

"We were not happy after the Big East tournament, but we still felt like we are going to get to the NIT bid, "said women's head coach Mike Carey. "I think our seniors stepped up and wanted to continue to play, and we have played out best basketball of the year these last four games. We weren't ready to stop the season yet."

While many teams probably made the same resolution, the West Virginia was able to make it a reality. While several factors have contributed to WVU's WNIT success, confidence seems to be the buzzword that the distaff Mountaineers are hanging their hats on.

"After we went down by one point against Kentucky, we showed a lot of heart," said Carey. "We were probably on the floor more than we were all season. We played with a lot of confidences, and I saw a lot of positive signs that have me excited for the future."

Sophomore standout Meg Bulger agreed, and also pointed to the comeback in the semifinal game as a big moment.

"I think the last game gave us a lot of confidence, and showed even if the other team comes back we can stay poised and stay calm and get a win in a tough environment."

WVU will be hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire in that area, as they move from Kentucky to Southwest Missouri State for the WNIT championship game. A sellout crowd is expected at SMS' Hammons Center, and the Mountaineers know it will be difficult. Carey says the team will have to stress communication in the noisy home of the Bears, and will have to keep their concentration high if they hope to bring home the WNIT championship trophy.

On the court, the Mountaineers also have an idea of what's in store for them. WVU faced SMS in a holiday tournament a year ago, losing an 82-64 decision in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Tournament.

"We know what to expect from them a little bit," Carey said. We know their offense. They like to shoot the three, and they are hitting 50% in the WNIT. They have some guards that are good players that can shoot and take you off the dribble, and they have a young lady that came off the bench and hit 5 of 6 threes in their last game."

"The Bears' featured player is Jenni Lingor, who averages 20.0 points per game. Lingor, the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, owns the SMS all-time three-point field goal mark and is the Bears' third all-time leading scorer."


Just like a bowl game for football, one of the side benefits of continuing to advance in the postseason is the availability of more practice time. The women got in three additional weeks of practice during their march to the championship game.

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While many may dismiss the WNIT, Carey believes that any championship is important as he continues to build the Mountaineer program.

"I think it is big. If you look at our record books, this is the first time we've have back-to-back 20-win seasons, which was very important. We were disappointed we didn't get back to the NCAAs, but to win a championship, whether it's NCAA, NIT or intramurals, it's important for your program, your university and your community."

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WVU's players believe that conditioning was another key factor in the U.K win.

"We felt we were in better condition, and we are also used to it because our bench is short," Carey noted. "We got six straight points in the second overtime on fast breaks, and that let us play from ahead."

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Carey, ever the master motivator, appears to have been scanning the media for motivation.

"They have a lot of confidence right now, judging by some of the quotes they made in the paper," Carey noted without elaborating.

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West Virginia has battled to overcome injuries to post player throughout Carey's tenure, but he finally got a post player this year that has managed to play for much of the season. Freshman Olayinka Sanni, who wasn't expected to play a great deal, was thrown into the fire after the season-ending injury to Yelena Leuchanka, and she grew quickly into the role.

"We knew Yinka was going to be a good player, but didn't realize she was going to play so much," Carey said. "With injuries to Yelena and Ramika McGee being limited, we were forced to do that. It's not unlike Yolanda Paige and Sherell Sowho when they were freshmen. They had to play early and learn on the run. Yinka has gotten better game by game, and I think she is going to be a great player for us."

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West Virginia Public Broadcasting will air the championship game Thursday night at 8 p.m. EST. The game will be televised statewide on public broadcast channels WSWP-TV (Beckley), WPBY-TV (Huntington) and WNPB-TV (Morgantown).

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