"When we were on our trip there and in pregame," WVU head coach Mike Carey said, "all I heard about was football. We were getting yelled at about our football team. They don't like West Virginia and it makes it a good rivalry."
Especially when WVU has frustrated Louisville, beating it three times in as many different venues in just two seasons, the only games ever played between the teams. The Mountaineers have won in Morgantown, a 99-73 romp on Jan. 10 of last year. They won in the Big East Tournament in Hartford, Conn., leaving U of L in a 54-45 wake of a loss as West Virginia powered its way to the league finals. And then the major blow, WVU likely securing an NCAA berth with a 76-71 overtime upset of the then-2oth ranked Cards. On their own home floor. From 16 points down. On Senior Night. And to steal the fourth-place finish and force Louisville to play the sleepy noon opener on March 3 – televised by BET and the Big East All-Access website – to earn the right to go another round with the Mountaineers on ESPNU one day later.
"They have been really good games the last few years," forward Chakia Cole said. "It's been so intense, so close and heart-stopping. I really think we are developing two rivalries, one with Louisville and one with Pitt. Louisville, it's a bit of everything. They have a good team, so you come out and play hard. It's the close games, the atmosphere, the teams not liking each other. With Pitt, it's the location and the history.
"With Louisville, it's new. But we don't get along. You're not supposed to get along on a basketball court. I'm not going to be the most civil. Off the court, it is fine at banquets and things. But not on the court."
Leading one to inquire if perhaps Louisville has surpassed Pitt, losers of five of the last six to WVU, to become West Virginia's main rival the way Virginia Tech once trumpeted Pitt in the eyes of Mountaineer football followers, and the way the Cardinals' football team is beginning to do the same now.
"In my mind it has, yes," said Carey, who has won 20 games in three of his last four seasons at WVU. "And with our players' minds I think also. We see them all the time in recruiting. We recruit a lot of the same people. They have an athletic team. We have an athletic team. We go after the same type player."
The loss at Freedom Hall was a gut shot – and check – to the Cards. West Virginia guard LaQuita Owens scored a career-high 30 points, 26 of which came in the second half. Center Yinka Sanni added 20, right on her average of 19.8 over the past four outings. And Louisville let the contest slip, or be taken away, by a 19-8 run that turned a 41-32 WVU deficit into a 51-49 lead with 7:15 remaining. It took Brandie Raddle's desperation 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left just to force overtime, where West Virginia would have none of it, outscoring Louisville 9-4 to quiet the crowd of 4,249 and end the Cardinals' 21-game home winning streak.
They were really looking to win, and we beat them on their home court," Sanni said. "They are athletic and always ranked higher than us, but we always seem to beat them. We know we can do it." Added Owens: "It's a rivalry because they want to beat us so bad. You can't take them for granted no matter how many times you beat them. They are going to go out and play harder than before. They have some athletes. I'd like to get one more, at least, or maybe a couple in the Big East."
The win tied the school's mark of 11 in the Big East and ended a regular season in which WVU won 20 games for just the second time in school history (25-2 in 1992). It was also was the last of three in a week in which West Virginia completed a remarkable run by winning 12 of its final 14 regular-season games. Owens was named the Big East Player of the Week for scoring a combined 49 points in victories against U of L and Pitt. It prompted Carey to simply note that it was "good to beat them on their home floor."
"Needless to say, if we play Louisville, we will be ready to play," Carey said. "My biggest concern is that if St. John's beats them, I have to turn around and try to get (us) ready to play. If we end up playing Louisville, you can bet that we will be ready to play because it has gotten so heated at times between the teams. That's the way I like it. I want our team to play hard and go out there and battle and be physical and see what happens."