A Great Opportunity

Mike Carey and the West Virginia women's basketball program have come a long way in the past several years. A win over top-ranked Tennessee on Wednesday night, however, could be the biggest accomplishment of all.

The Mountaineers (3-0) will travel south on I-79 to Charleston for a neutral court showdown with Pat Summitt's powerful program at the Charleston Civic Center. Tipoff is slated for 7:00 PM. One year ago in Knoxville, Tennessee (4-0) got off to a hot start and never looked back en route to a 66-51 win at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"After the first eight minutes last year at their place, we played even with them," Carey said following his team's win over Cornell on Sunday afternoon. "I think we got caught up in that first eight minutes with all of their introductions. It's unbelieveable. You've got fireworks coming out at each end, the lights are off, you've got their numbers lasered on the floor and all of that stuff. I think we got a bit caught up in that. After that, they turned the lights back on and we could see a little bit better."

Of course that was back when West Virginia was still searching for its identity during an early-season swoon during the non-conference portion of the schedule which featured not only the Lady Vols, but the talented LSU Tigers and Texas A&M Aggies. Since that time, Carey's program has blossomed into a group that played well enough to earn a bye in the Big East tournament before advancing to the second round of the NCAA field.

For the first time in school history, the Mountaineers opened the season ranked in the Top 25 of both major polls. In the latest rankings, West Virginia checks in at No. 16, up three spots from a week ago. While a win over the Lady Vols would undoubtedly produce an even bigger leap in both the ratings and national conscience, Carey is cautious to point out that this team's ultimate desitny is not predicated on one late November non-conference game.

"Naturally, it would be a great win for us," said the candid coach. "They're the defending champs, and they're No. 1 right now. They have everybody back but one player.

"If we win that game Wednesday, that doesn't assure us of getting to the Final Four," he said. "If we don't win that game, it doesn't assure us of not going to the Final Four. That's how we're approaching this game. We're going into the game to win. We're not going to be intimidated. We're going to play hard. We're looking forward to this game, because it will show us where we're at right now."

Of course if the Mountaineers had it their way, the game would be played at the Coliseum. However, one of the main reasons the game was scheduled was so that former South Charleston star and current Tennessee standout Alexis Hornbuckle could play one more game in front of her hometown crowd at the arena where she dazzled Kanawha Valley onlookers for four seasons. Although it won't be a true homecourt advantage for his troops, Carey is still hoping to see an enthusiastic gathering of Blue and Gold in the Capital City.

"We're going to have a great crowd," said the Harrison County native. "Half of them will be for us, and half of them will be for Hornbuckle. It's not the greatest home-court advantage, but it is what it is. We're going to go play, and it's going to be very exciting. It's going to be a great college basketball game. We're looking forward to it, win or lose."

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