For the third time this season, the Mountaineers will take on a top five foe. For the first time, though, the game will be played on an undisputed home court for West Virginia.
Back in November, the Mountaineers took on then-No. 1 Tennessee in front of a sold out Charleston Civic Center crowd, many of whom turned out to watch Kanawha Valley native and UT point guard Alexis Hornbuckle. The Lady Vols pulled away in the second half with a 67-49 victory.
A few weeks ago, West Virginia traveled to current No. 1 UConn, only to see their upset hopes trampled in a big way as the Huskies rolled to a 36-point blowout in front of a raucous home crowd in the Nutmeg State.
Tonight, Carey is hoping for a raucous crowd, this time clad all in gold as his 12th-ranked Mountaineers look to make a statement against last season's national-runner up.
Saturday's 67-35 pasting of Georgetown was played in front of a nearly-full student section, and while many students undoubtedly turned out in order to get a good early seat for the men's game against the Hoyas Saturday night, Carey hopes they will turnout again tonight for his team's biggest home game of the season.
The Mountaineer Maniacs, WVU's organized student spirit club, will be giving away free mesh shorts to the first 75 students who arrive at the Coliseum tonight. An additional 100 students will receive free t-shirts.
No matter how many people are in the stands -- and Carey made it clear that he expects a solid crowd -- the Mountaineers will likely again have to make up for the absence of senior forward Meg Bulger. Bulger tweaked her surgically-repaired left knee in last Wednesday's win over Marshall, and missed Saturday's game against Georgetown. She is currently listed as day-to-day.
"Losing Meg at this time, our second leading scorer, you knew you were going to get double figures from her," Carey said. "You could write that down going into the game because you knew you were going to get 14 or 15 points."
In her absence, junior point guard Ashley Powell and freshman sub Liz Repella have provided big lifts in the scoring column for the Mountaineers. Carey hopes to see more of the same tonight.
"Ashley Powell has done a great job giving us some additional scoring the last two games," explained the coach. "With Liz Repella, I think the more she gets comfortable she can score. I think everybody saw Kelly Smith get in the lineup some, and she can score also."
Of course points are always hard to come by against C. Vivian Stringer's bunch. The Knights are among the nation's leaders in several defensive categories, and while the offensive statistics may not quite add up, Carey believes that the Rutgers defense has the ability to control any game by forcing turnovers which lead to easy baskets.
"They score in the 50s and 60s," he said. "They get a lot of their offense from their defense, and we've been fortunate in the past to at least not have a lot of turnovers. If you have a lot of turnovers against Rutgers, it's going to affect you all night. We've done a decent job against their pressure.
The recipe for West Virginia seems pretty straightforward. Avoid costly turnovers, continue to get solid offensive contributions from the backcourt in Bulger's absence, and of course get a good game from senior center and All-American candidate Olayinka Sanni.
Then again, there's a reason the Knights are ranked No. 5. This time, though, Carey hopes the home court advantage will put his team over the top for a landmark win over RU.
"It's a big game. This is a little bit of a bigger game because they're ranked, and we're ranked. Every game is a big game because it's a conference game.
"Rutgers is a good team," he continued. "They're physical, and have great athletes. They have all five starters back from last year, who played in the national championship game. We're going to have to come out and play pretty well."