By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Unlike the West Virginia University women’s basketball team she plays for, Asya Bussie draws a crowd every time she steps onto the Coliseum court.
The crowd, unfortunately, isn’t fellow WVU students or paying customers. Only 1,553 of them came out Saturday to watch the Mountaineers continue to roll, winning their seventh straight game, 94-47, over Fairleigh Dickinson to go to 7-1.
No, the crowd Bussie, the Mountaineer center and a preseason All-Big 12 selection as she comes back from missing last year due to knee surgery, draws wears the colors of the other team.
What teams have taken to doing is sagging down on her to limit her touches of the ball. By so doing, however, are they giving a whole lot of easy shots, especially from 3-point range, to Bussie’s teammates, and they are taking advantage of it.
Bussie had only three baskets but managed to string together a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but starting guards Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer, along with backup Brooke Hampton, went wild from the outside.
Palmer, a one-time starter who had been coming off the bench this year, got the starting call because Bria Holmes was out with a concussion suffered in the last game and is now day-to-day.
Palmer led all scorers with 25 points, making four of nine from 3, while Caldwell, the team’s leading scorer for the season with a 15.3 average coming into the game, totaled 19 while hitting 3 of 7 from 3.
Hampton, getting 26 minutes off the bench, scored a season-high 13 points with some true sharpshooting, hitting five of six from the floor, three of four of them from 3-point range.
“I was glad to see we had 21 assists,” said coach Mike Carey. “With teams sagging on Asya, it leaves everyone open, so it would be easy to have none, but we were passing the ball.”
WVU was searching for the most open 3-point shot and it paid as the Mountaineers hit 11 of 23 for the game, 47.8 percent, compared to a season average of 29.7 percent.
“We have to make (the other teams) pay for sagging on Asya,” Carey said. “Poor Asya. Everyone is double- and triple-teaming her. They apparently have scouting reports that say don’t let her beat us; make the guards beat us.”
And that’s just what Caldwell, Taylor and Hampton did and have been doing as WVU scored more than 80 points for the fifth time in eight games.
“Asya is so good inside, it figures that they are sagging on her,” Caldwell said. “As guards, we’re not shooting as well as we can. They are taking a chance, but I suspect as we go deeper into the season they won’t drop us as much.”
Palmer says she’s not surprised at the strategy, either.
“She is one of the best inside players in the country,” she said. “Teams are going to do everything they can possibly do to stop her. If we get her the ball, nine out of 10 times something positive happens.
“Them doing that motivates us as guards, though,” Palmer continued. “The more we play well, the less teams will be able to fixate on us.”
“They have been crashing down Asya, and it has allowed us guards to make big plays,” Hampton said. “Them doing that shows a lack of respect and motivates us.”
Brianna Thomas scored 23 of Fairleigh Dickinson’s 47 points and made nine field goals, while the rest of the team could score only seven.
WVU is off for finals week now before returning to the court next Saturday in Charleston to face instate rival Marshall.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.