Much has been made of West Virginia having to play what is in essence a road game when the Mountaineers take the court at 8:30 PM against 12th seeded New Mexico. While the Lobos will indeed be playing in their home arena, WVU head coach Mike Carey says that the time to complain about his team's draw in the field of 64 has long since passed. Now, it's time to tip the ball and play.
"They deserve to have it here, they get great crowds here, they've had great success here, they have been in the NCAA several years in a row, I don't blame them, I would put a bid in every year also if I had the success that they have had," Carey said on Friday prior to practice. "It's nothing against New Mexico I just felt placing third in the Big East that wouldn't occur, but it did, no excuses, they deserve what they got, and we deserve we got. We struggled at the end of the year, dropped us a couple seeds and that's what happened."
To say that West Virginia did not play it's best basketball down the stretch would be fair. The Mountaineers were in a position to finish in the top two of the powerful Big East, but road losses to Pitt and Syracuse sandwiched around a Senior Day win over Louisville sent WVU into the Big East Championships in something of a slump. The Mountaineers finished .500 in Hartford, leading to a somewhat-surprising fifth seed for the Big Dance.
Now, Carey hopes his team can rekindle the kind of play which had the Mountaineers on the brink of the top ten in late February before the late-season slide. The key to doing so, he says, is a good start in both halves against the Lobos.
"At this time of the year you can't stand around," he explained. "To me it is all about heart and energy right now. We have to play harder than New Mexico tomorrow for 40 minutes. If we don't we will get beat. That's the thing with our girls, we have been challenging them over the last week talking about having some heart, being dedicated again, doing the little things, about defending. As we defend is usually how our offense goes. We have had a bubble up on our rim so nobody can make a shot to practice boxing out so I don't even know if we will make a shot (against New Mexico.)"
Having been through the rigors of the nation's deepest and toughest conference, there is no doubt that the Mountaineers are battle tested. At this time of year, however, all it takes is one bad game to end it all: the season, the success, and in West Virginia's case, the career of seven seniors.
Against the Lobos, Carey expects to face an opponent similar to Big East rival Louisville. New Mexico prefers to spread the floor, and has the ability to score from the perimeter with all five players. No, the Lobos don't have a national player of the year candidate such as U of L's Angel McCoughtery, but the way they go about getting their points is similar to the Cardinals.
"They have key players that they go to," he said. "They run a lot of high low type sets, they pull their five out sometimes looking to go to their four, they attack and spread you out, sometimes five out, even though they don't have the big post players that Louisville had, they have their posts that go away from the basket and they love to post their four down low. I see a lot of similarities and they hit the boards hard and attack of the dribble.
"I think their post players are physical and athletic," he continued. "They have some shooters and some players that go in and bang you in the post. They are a good basketball team. They are playing very well right now and there were questions early about the air, we haven't talked about that, we are going to make no excuses, we are going to go out there and play. If we get beat it is going to be because New Mexico beat us."
The time to make excuse and lodge complaints has come and gone. Now, it's time to see if the Mountaineers can duplicate or even surpass their past tournament success.
NOTE: West Virginia's game with New Mexico will tip at 8:30 PM, and will be televised nationally by ESPN2.