Keeping Focus

West Virginia's best-ever 17-1 start in women's basketball is reason for celebration, but head coach Mike Carey, like all mentors, wants to keep his team in balance as it works for league positioning and postseason play.

Carey understands the need for his players to enjoy their accomplishments to date. Fifteen consecutive wins and a 5-0 slate in the tough Big East conference should be enjoyed, but at the same time the mantra of "one game at a time" is never far away.

"I think it is [important], but we have to keep it in perspective," Carey said as his team prepared for Marshall. "There's still a lot of season left. What we've done, if we don't do well the next 12 games it all goes away. We have to stay focused We play Marshall tomorrow, so we have to concentrate on them."

Carey starts a lineup featuring four juniors and a freshman, so it would appear that he has the veteran savvy to deal with that issue, as well as with the intensity that comes with any game with the Herd. However, he points out that in many ways, his team is still inexperienced.

"Only three or our girls played in this game last year: Sarah Miles, Natalie Burton and Liz Repella. So you are hoping they can relay the way this game is. You try to get them ready. You show them tape, and tell them they are going to come at you just like a Big East school will. But even with all that, I've had teams come down here and after they get slapped around for a few minutes they realize, 'Wow, we better start playing, because they are taking this seriously.' We want to get off to a quick start and our girls realize we are going to be in a heck of a ballgame tomorrow."

The 13th-ranked Mountaineers have progressed more quickly than even the most optimistic of observers might have guessed. Although there was much excitement over an excellent recruiting class and the eligibility of transfers, not many would have predicted such a stellar start for West Virginia. In addition to balanced play, Carey notes a handful of unexpected items that have contributed to WVU's flying start.

"I think Sarah Miles playing point guard has been big," he noted. "She has never played there before in her life and to switch over and do as well as she's doing, we're very pleased with that. We thought that would be more of a process, but she has done very well early. She's accepted her role. Freshman Aysa Bussie coming in, we go to her down the stretch, and she's been able to produce for us and hit some big shots. And coming off the bench, I think Vanessa House has done well."

Miles has steadied the offense, recording 118 assists against 48 turnovers, which well exceeds the two-to-one ratio that's a standard of point guard play. She also has 55 steals to lead the team, and averages 9.5 points per contest. Bussie has been a stalwart inside, displaying nifty footwork and a nose for the ball on the boards. She posts 12,1 points per game, and almost half of her 110 rebounds have come on the offensive end. House, coming off the bend, chips in nearly seven points per appearance.

That play, along with the expected contributions of transfer Korinne Campbell, Liz Repella and Madina Ali, have given Carey a number of weapons to deploy.

"We have a lot of girls that can score," Carey explained. "In the past, we've had one or two, and if they weren't hitting we struggled. But we're able to win some games right now even if our top two scorers aren't hitting. We can go inside and try to draw a score, and we have Korinne and Vanessa and Madina and Sarah that can score."

That depth is compounded by versatility. While Bussie is a fixture at the five (center) spot and Miles at the point, many of West Virginia's other players can swing between different spots. That flexibility, as Carey says, is great to have as a coach.

"Those are the kind of players we try to recruit," Carey noted. "I love have players that can play several positions. You have different lineups you can go with, and if someone gets in foul trouble or gets hurt you can move them around. Say if Madina Ali gets in foul trouble, we can move Korinne to the four. If Korinne isn't at the four, she can go to the three, and that puts Liz at the two. Last year Liz was a four, this year' she's a two, and can play the three also. That's great to have as a coach."

Experience at different positions has also helped those players improve, in Carey's opinion.

"I think Liz playing the four helped he become more physical as a guard. Same with Korinne, she can go inside and bang, but still play outside and be more physical there. That's been important for us."

NOTES

Even with that versatility and playing experience, WVU is still a relatively young team. There are no seniors on the Mountaineer roster.

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WVU is 7-1 in its last eight games against the Herd, including a current four-game winning streak. WVU leads the overall series by 32-15.


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