Stretch Run

Perhaps Mike Carey was busy scouting this weekend's opponent, Marquette. Perhaps he was just getting a bigger stack of dress shirts ready to go for the postseason (after famously only packing one shirt to the 2006 Big East Tournament, then watching his upstart Mountaineers upset their way into the finals).

But for whatever reason, he left assistant coach M.L. Willis to answer the questions on Thursday's Big East coaches' conference call.

If the reason is the former, and not the latter, Carey's inability to take five minutes to speak to the media could easily be understood. After all, there's a lot of history riding on Saturday's game against the Golden Eagles.

A win would give West Virginia only its second undefeated season at home in program history. But the 1991-92 team that turned the trick before played only 14 games at the Coliseum -- and one of those helped give it the edge in a first-round NCAA Tournament win over Clemson.

This year's Mountaineers would move to 17-0 at home with a win over Marquette. It would also tie a school record for the most wins in a single season, as Carey's squad currently sits at 25-3 and 10-2 in an always-tough Big East Conference.

But all of that history isn't on the minds of players or coaches heading into the last two games of the regular season, according to Willis.

"These goals, meeting some of these feats, are just something that keeps surprising us every day," said the first-year assistant under Carey. "Going undefeated at home, if we could win this game Saturday against Marquette, would just be great."

"At the same time, we're really just focused on playing together and continuing our success down the line. We haven't really taken a lot of time to look at how many records we've broken or the last time something happened."

That's probably a smart way to approach things, considering the fact that there's still a lot more to accomplish for what is, in some ways, a young squad.

West Virginia is one of only 15 teams in the nation with no seniors on its roster. That has made the squad's success something of a surprise to outsiders, but it's something Carey, Willis and the rest of the coaching staff could see coming.

"We're really excited about this season and how everything is going at this point," said Willis. "We're getting a lot of contribution from about everybody on our team, which has a lot to do with our success right now. We're just trying to keep everybody focused and ride this thing out and see where it goes."

While the name of co-captain and junior guard Liz Repella is the one most fans knew before the season, it's been the play of a variety of Mountaineers that has catapulted the team into its highest national rankings in program history (currently No. 8 in the AP poll and No. 7 in the Coaches' Poll).

Junior guard Sarah Miles, last year's winner of the Big East's Most Improved Player Award, has been a key. Miles had never played point guard before starting the first game of the season in that role.

But she has proven a quick study, averaging six assists per game while minimizing her turnover numbers and still scoring 10.1 points per game. In WVU's last game, a 64-43 win at Cincinnati, Miles had six assists and only one turnover.

"We have so many leaders at this point, but Sarah Miles is definitely our emotional leader," said Willis. "She's our spark, whether she's in the game or out of the game, involved in a play or not involved. She's definitely holding us together. I like to call her the glue of our team right now."

"Our captains are Liz Repella and Madina Ali, but Sarah Miles definitely gets us started."

One of three West Virginia freshmen that were ranked among the nation's top 100 recruits a year ago, center Asya Bussie has not disappointed this season, either.

Thrust into the starting line-up immediately, Bussie has proven to be a force on both ends of the floor.

Her 10.7 points and 5.7 boards per game have been a welcome contribution, but it's her 58 blocks (the most in a single season by any Mountaineer since Georgeann Wells had 140 rejections in 1986) and overall solid defensive play in the post that have truly earned her accolades.

In WVU's 54-45 win at South Florida on Feb. 20, Bussie held the Bulls' center Jessica Lawson to zero points, 0-of-6 shooting from the field, six rebounds and three turnovers.

Lawson, who also fouled out in the process, came in averaging 15.2 points and 10.8 boards per game and is generally seen as one of the better post players in the Big East.

"We basically told Asya that (Lawson) is one of the post post players in the conference, and Asya had to grow up real quick," said Willis.

"She's been thrown into the fire all season, guarding highly-ranked post players and things like that. She did a great job on Jessica, and we were very excited at the end of the game when we saw that she didn't have any points. But at the same time, we told Asya that she had to defend her, block her out and things like that. Asya stepped up."

Of course, all of this says nothing of Repella, who is still averaging better than 14 points per game (she had 20 against Cincinnati) and junior guard Korinne Campbell, who had her sixth-career double double against the Bearcats with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

While Carey has expressed some worry as of late that his team's offense has stagnated slightly, there's little doubt that all of the pieces are in place for what could be an exceptional postseason run.

That is looming ever-closer, as Saturday's game against Marquette and a trip to Syracuse the following Monday is all that separates the Mountaineers from the Big East Tournament in Hartford, Conn.

"We're starting to gel," said Wright. "Some games are close, some games we're winning by a couple points and some games we win by double digits. But our team is finding ways to win, because we're not just coming out (with an) explosive first half or an explosive second half. We're coming out and playing basketball, playing together."

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