The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

January 21, 2014

WVU women break into AP Top 25 at No. 18

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia women’s basketball coach Mike Carey has spent a lot of time figuring out ways to keep Top 25 teams from winning this season.

Now he has to begin figuring out ways to keep one winning as his 16-2 Mountaineers finally cracked the AP Top 25 this week, breaking in at No. 18.

The USA Today Coaches Poll is announced today and it’s expected the Mountaineers will be ranked in that poll as well.

A week ago, Carey said he wasn’t bothered by not being ranked.

“It really doesn’t matter. It’s about getting ready for the NCAAs, not about the Top 20,” he said. “We beat a couple of Top 25 teams on the road. You can see how much that matters.”

WVU had gone on the road, and beaten both Iowa State and Oklahoma State while losing at home to Baylor, all ranked teams, in his ladies’ first five Big 12 games.

More important, though, to Carey was coming home from the 14-point upset of Iowa State, his team came home with one of their best performances of the year to beat a strong Oklahoma team that was the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, 77-63.

“Give our girls a lot of credit,” Carey said after that game. “They came off a big win and came home against Oklahoma. I think they have a great team and do a lot of stuff well. We only gave up 63 and I think they are averaging over 80. Overall I was very pleased.”

What has happened in recent days with Carey’s team is that’s character has changed. It was a team that went through senior center Asya Bussie, a preseason all-conference selection, but teams were bunching their defenses around her.

Carey finally convinced his point guard Linda Stepney to become an attacking force on offense, and it has changed everything as she scored 17, including 10 for 10 from the free throw line, against Oklahoma and 16 against Iowa State, which was then a career high.

“Linda is playing very well right now,” Carey said, crediting her attacking style with keeping WVU from standing around when it began having trouble with Oklahoma’s zone.

“You can drive a zone, too. We stopped penetrating and cutting, and it hurt us,” Carey said. “Linda did a great job of getting in the gaps and making things happen. Then, at the end, we just kept getting the ball to her because she was hitting all her foul shots.”

WVU also got a huge lift out of Christal Caldwell, who had been the team’s leading scorer early in the year before going into a deep shooting slump, coming to life the last two games, leading WVU against Oklahoma with 23 points, including 5 for 5 from 3-point range. She had gone 2 for 20 from 3 before showing signs of coming out of it with 2 for 4 against Texas and then hitting 8 of 12 against Iowa State and Texas.

WVU has won five of its first six Big 12 games in a schedule that was front-loaded, which finally hit the poll voters. The Mountaineers had been receiving votes all year but not enough to enjoy elite status.

The last time WVU was in the AP top 25 was on Dec. 17, 2012, when the Mountaineers had four consecutive wins and were ranked No. 24 nationally.

WVU goes out to Texas for a two-game road swing this week, facing Texas Tech on Wednesday and Texas on Saturday.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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