The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

March 23, 2014

WVU women looking to stay away from upset with Albany

MORGANTOWN — Friday evening in a near-campus Morgantown eatery known as the Boston Beanery, this question was asked more than once, as it probably was in eateries across West Virginia, from Clarksburg to Poca, from Fairmont to Martinsburg.

“Where’s Mercer located?” was the question.

It was a fair-enough question, considering that not many people had ever heard of the No. 14 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament that upset mighty No. 3 Duke.

Rest assured that West Virginia’s women’s coach, Mike Carey, did not lose sight of what transpired in that game, and so many others across the men’s landscape, for he and his West Virginia Mountaineers carry a No. 2 seed in the women’s tournament at 3 p.m. today in Baton Rouge, La., against a rather unknown entity of its own, Albany, in a game that can be seen on ESPN.

In fact, when it was first announced that Albany would be the Mountaineers’ first-round opponent, Carey admitted, “I don’t know anything about them, but I promise you by tomorrow I will know everything about them.”

As it turns out, that was one of those “I know I know you but don’t remember your name” kind of thing, for once he began watching film of the Great Danes – yes, that is their nickname (see footnote) – it came back to Carey in a flood of memories.

“I didn’t think about it until I saw tape, and I remembered watching them play North Carolina last year when we were down in the NCAA last year (a first-round game they lost at Newark, Del., by just 59-54). They’ve got good size. They look inside to their 4 and 5 a lot.”

Oh, and did we mention they have a center named Megan Craig, who stands 6-feet, 9-inches tall and has come all the way from Whangarei, New Zealand, to torment him and his 6-4 center Asya Bussie, that they are 28-4 and have won the America East championship three straight years, that they are ranked No 3 in the mid-major poll and that they feature a star player in Shereesha Richards, who led the America East Conference in scoring with 20.3 points to go nine rebounds per game?

Can you say Carey might have Mercer on his mind as he thinks about the pitfalls in this game, for upsets in the NCAA tournament are many, as it would figure when you consider that 67 of the 68 teams eventually are going to lose.

But what makes an upset? How can a Mercer show no mercy to Duke, of all teams, coached by the man maybe acknowledged as the best coach in the NCAA at present, if not all-time?

And if he is vulnerable to a first-round upset, then so is Carey, but what happens to make this far too common an occurrence?

“I think it’s a little bit of ego,” said Carey, trying to analyze it. “Teams go in and they play in a little bit larger conference, have a great year, but some of these other conferences are good, too. Look at Albany. They are 26-4. They are used to winning and they are used to being in the NCAA, so we can’t go in and take them for granted.

“They have height. They are not as deep as some of the teams we play against but they can score, and their defense, in my opinion, is a little bit like TCU’s but more aggressive on the wings.”

All of that, of course, Carey has been heaping on his ladies, showing them film of Craig and how her height can dominate a game. No, she doesn’t have the fluid grace and athleticism to go with here size that Britney Griner had at Baylor during her career, but she’s 6-9 and that matters.

And Richards is capable of going off at any time, just like Odyssey Sims of Baylor, who scored 49 and 38 against WVU during the season, Richards having scored 41 against Vermont and 32 against Dartmouth this season.

But do the kids listen when coaches point such things out?

“No,” Carey said. “If that was the case, you wouldn’t have all the upsets you see it in the men’s brackets.”

But Carey has to try to get through and believes he has a better chance than most coaches.

“I’m hoping because we have so many seniors and this is their last go that they’ll be focused and understand you have to win the first game before you get to the second game,” he said.

Still …

“Coaches a lot smarter than me are going to try to figure out why there are upsets,” he said. “They’re going to play hard. They’re in the NCAA Tournament for a reason.”

And then there is pressure.

Coaches often try to downplay it, but Carey doesn’t. He openly admits this is a pressure-packed situation.

“Absolutely. One game and you’re done. I’m not going to sit here and say there’s no pressure. There’s a lot of pressure on the players,” he said. “We try to make it a little relaxed. I don’t think they’re tight. If we can go get this first game – always the first one is the hardest because you’re just getting on the floor. You haven’t played in a while, so timing is a factor.

“But I tell them, if we can just play hard, hit some shots, play defense, get to the boards and keep them off the foul line good things will happen.”

That’s all. Just do everything right and good things will happen.

Oh, by the way, Mercer is in Macon, Georgia.

FOOTNOTE: Originally called the Pedagogues until 1965, when a nickname change made them the only American college or university with that nickname. The name Great Danes was selected by university student, Kathy Earle, who won a $25 savings bond for her selection. Mrs. Earle, UAlbany Class of ’67, selected the Great Danes because of their “size, weight, strength, character, courage, speed, and stamina.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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