WVU Hosts Cincy In Key Senior Day Clash

Two more: A Mike Carey-based guesstimate of how many wins West Virginia's women's basketball team needs to secure an NCAA berth.

The Mountaineers have a prime opportunity to cut that number in half on Senior Day at 2 p.m. Saturday versus Cincinnati. The Bearcats (14-12, 5-9 Big East), losers of five of their last seven, are in 11th place in the Big East with only the top 12 advancing to the Big East Tournament. Ten teams, WVU included, have clinched berths but are looking to improve seeding. The Mountaineers (18-9, 9-5) are tied for fifth with Louisville, against which it finishes its season on Feb. 26. With two games left, a sweep would ease the tournament burden, secure at least fifth place and get WVU to Carey's magic number of 20.

"They are playing with a lot of confidence," Carey said of his team. "They realize we are going down the stretch and that every game is important. They realize what is about to happen in the Big East Tournament."

Namely the possibility of needing a win to impress the committee in the same arena in which it shocked the league by making an impromptu run to the finals last year. This season, Carey credits West Virginia's non-conference slate with helping it make another run that has increased NCAA chances via a seven-game winning streak in January that was the foundation of wins in 10 of the last 12 games. WVU was able to upset Pitt at the Petersen Events Center in its last game largely because of the confidence and experience it took from facing teams like LSU, Texas A&M and Tennessee – all of which were ranked inside the top 13 when they played West Virginia – away from home.

Now, they play a squad that lacks a major outside shooting threat, but one that can pound inside. Center Yinka Sannni's ability to stay out of foul trouble will loom large, something she has struggled with in the past. WVU has relied on its 26th-ranked scoring defense to win games when Sanni and LaQuita Owens, 10th nationally in 3-pointers per game with an average of 2.7, have had poor outings. Sanni had two bad fouls against Pitt. Her third came when she dove upon a Panther player already on the floor, and the fourth was 30 feet from the basket. Carey said that she will need to be smarter for West Virginia to limit UC inside.

"They are also very athletic on the perimeter," Carey said of a Bearcat team whose play focuses on aggressive point guard Carla Jacobs, a freshman who is averaging more than eight points and four assists per contest. "Eight of their losses are against top 25 teams, so they are a little bit better than what their record indicates. They have a couple shooters, but they aren't a great shooting team from the three. They are like Pitt. We have to stay in front of them and keep them off the offensive boards.

In a Cincinnati win last season, the Bearcats managed 23 offensive rebounds. Carey has put an emphasis on boxing out and quickly outletting passes so the Mountaineers can capitalize with their transition game. West Virginia will need to run some against UC, and the game could be uptempo, as both squads employ a three-guard set. The teams are also the same size at nearly every position, rendering nil Cincinnati's past advantage.

"Every game you win now makes the next one that much more important," Carey said. "If we would not have won the Pitt game, this one would not be as important. But because we did, this is very important for seeding and postseason."

It's also important for Tameka Kelly and Brittany Davis-White. The two seniors will play their last college home game – and perhaps their last major organized game ever. Kelly, a 6-1 forward, has averaged 1.5 points and one rebound, while Davis-White, a guard, scored a career-high in points in a league game with seven versus Pitt. She averages 4.1 points and 1.2 boards.

"They have really helped us," Carey said. "Brittany White really stepped up and helped us in the Big East Tournament last season. She has been our captain this year and has shown leadership coming off the bench. She has a great attitude and has accepted her role. Tameka Kelly is the same way. She comes to practice everyday and practices hard. She is very vocal on the bench when she is not playing. Both have showed a lot of leadership and responsibility."

"It's our last home game on the floor and hopefully we will have a great crowd and be able to win this one. I have said all along that you have to take care of you home floor. We need to get this one before we go on the road to Louisville."

Meg Bulger, an All-Big East selection, was supposed to be a member of this class, but is being redshirted after tearing an ACL. She will have one season of eligibility remaining.

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