Brawling Once More

When West Virginia and Pitt squared off inside the WVU Coliseum back on February 13, the game was billed as a matchup between locks for the NCAA Tournament, and contenders for the Big East Championship.

Less than two weeks later, much has changed. West Virginia is still in excellent shape to have a high seed in both postseason tournaments. In fact, a win over the Panthers would all but sew up a top three seed in the upcoming Big East Championship, assuring the Mountaineers of a first-round bye for the second consecutive season.

In addition to the Pitt game, West Virginia also faces Louisville this weekend before next Monday's regular season finale at Syracuse. All three teams are competing for an NCAA Tournament spot, and all three teams have been ranked at one point in the season. Thus, the home stretch is anything but a cakewalk for the Mountaineers and head coach Mike Carey.

"I told the girls that we're not only playing these last three games for our seeding in the Big East Tournament, we are also playing for seeding in the NCAAs," Carey reiterated on Monday afternoon. "These next three games are very important for us. We've got to come out ready to play."

Of course it all begins tomorrow night at the Peterson Events Center, home of the reeling Panthers. After spending much of the season in the Top 25, Pitt has dropped four straight games in a stretch that included ranked foes Connecticut and Rutgers in addition to the first meeting with West Virginia.

The weak finish against a strong schedule likely hasn't cost the Panthers completely in terms of an NCAA bid, but a win over the No. 13 Mountaineers would certainly be an across the board cure for ailing Pitt.

"Pitt needs a win, because they've lost four in a row in the conference," Carey said. "There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to come out ready to play tomorrow.

"Pitt's a very good basketball team," he continued. "They've been struggling as of late, but they have the athletes, they have the shooters and they have (Marcedes) Walker inside who can be strong and very effective. We know we're going to get their best shot."

Two weeks ago in Morgantown, neither team could muster much in terms of offense, at least in the game's first half. Luckily for the Mountaineers, shots began to fall in the second half as WVU widened its already lopsided lead, ultimately leaving Pitt head coach Agnes Berenato no choice but to empty the bench early enough in the final frame to give some of Pitt's key reserves a chance to show their skills against a top team.

Though the blowout may still be fresh on the minds of Mountaineer and Panther fans alike, Carey does not expect anything but a better effort from Pitt this time around. With that in mind, however, he still expects his team to guard well for 40 minutes, even if they don't hold the Panthers to the minuscule 35-point output of the previous meeting.

"To me, if we play the defense, if we keep them off the offensive boards, if we contest their first shots, then maybe we can get our running game going and get some easy ones at the other end," he said.

"If we're playing our defense, it won't be a high-scoring game. If it's a high-scoring game, then it means we're not playing our defense."

NOTE: Senior guard LaQuita Owens is practicing with the team again after missing Saturday's win over Villanova due to an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules.

Carey indicated that he had not yet made up his mind as to whether or not Owens will travel or play on Tuesday night.


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