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December 29, 2013

WVU women look to extend streak to 11

MORGANTOWN — It has been more than a week since Mike Carey last had his West Virginia women’s basketball team on the court for a game, time for them to enjoy some Christmas cheer and then return to practice and feel his wrath over what he felt was a lackluster performance in beating Duquesne, 88-80.

“Ridiculous! Ridiculous,” were the words Carey used in the aftermath of the game. “You give up 80 points. Ridiculous! We better get ready for the Big 12 because we’re not close to being ready now.”

Getting ready was what the past few days were aimed at, with Elon’s visit to the Coliseum at 2 p.m. today being the final hurdle before beginning Big 12 play at Kansas and at Oklahoma State on Jan. 2 and 4.

Carey’s team has a 10-1 record and is beginning to draw some national attention, and Elon doesn’t figure to be much more than a warmup for the conference season.

Elon is 5-6, and while having won two straight, it was against Campbell and Mount Olive.

The two-game win streak doesn’t make them seem like they are ready to challenge WVU’s 10-game win streak, built after losing the opener to Ohio State.

While Elon returns three starters from a team that went 19-14 last season, 14-6 in Southern Conference play, and made it to the second round of the women’s NIT, the Phoenix met WVU in a similar situation on the Coliseum floor and was blown away, 84-36.

The key to this year’s WVU team has been its depth and balance. Even though it has in Asya Bussie one of the premiere big players in the nation, Carey has leaned on her as teams continually have harassed her with double teams and sagging defenses.

That has allowed everyone else to develop around her and, at present, WVU has four players averaging in double figures, headed by Bussie’s 14.2 points a game. Bria Holmes averages 13.7 and has flashes of becoming a big-time player in the Big 12, Christal Caldwell averages 13.1 but has slumped lately, while Taylor Palmer comes off the bench and averages 12.9 a game.

Palmer has been hot in recent games, averaging 13.3 points a game while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and a stunning 52.9 percent from 3 by hitting nine of her last 17 tries.

In the Duquesne game, forward Averee Fields played an important role.

“I thought Averee Fields came out at the beginning of the game and was very aggressive and was scoring and then got in foul trouble. We were getting the ball into Asya and then she got in foul trouble,” Carey said. “They were trying to sag and take Asya out as much as they could, and that’s why it’s big when Averee hit some shots and got to the rim.”

Carey also saw his point guard Linda Stepney, who has shot reluctantly, insert herself into the offense and get things going along with Fields.

“It’s big when Linda gets to the rim and starts some scoring because that’s usually two girls (with Fields) they play off of. So when they start scoring, then we’re pretty good,” Carey said.

Two reserves other than Palmer also have played big roles, Brooke Hampton playing a lot of minutes in place of Stepney and alongside her, offering an outside threat that Stepney hasn’t shown.

Three players average double figures for Elon, led by junior guard Zora Stephenson with 13.4 points per game, while Kelsey Harris adds 12.7 points per game. Stephenson has collected the most threes for Elon with 32 this season, while junior Sam Coffer and freshman Lenaira Ruffin add eight and five threes, respectively. Freshman forward Jenifer Rhodes rounds out the top three scorers with 10.0 points per game, in only eight games this season.

Elon is led in rebounding by Coffer with 6.8 boards per game and leads the team with 17 blocked shots. Rhodes and Harris each aid on the boards with 5.5 and 5.1 rebounds per game, respectively. Harris also leads the Phoenix in the steals category with 22.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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