By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If anything can be drawn from the West Virginia women’s 54-47 victory Sunday over a good Virginia team that can carry over into today’s 7 p.m. game against instate rival Marshall, it is that the team had a lesson in what its identity is and how to play to it.
The Mountaineers (4-2) went into the Virginia game off two consecutive losses, losses built mainly off dismal shooting both from the field and the foul line and an inability on defense to stay away from stupid fouls.
In beating Virginia they certainly didn’t solve the shooting problems. West Virginia shot just 35.6 percent for the game. Its two high scorers, Christal Caldwell (19 points) and Taylor Palmer (11), made just 12 of 44 from the field.
Shooting may be a problem all season with this team, especially minus Asya Bussie, the team’s high scorer last year and top inside presence, who is out for the season with knee surgery.
That’s the reality. Some teams don’t shoot well.
In fact, in losing the two games in a row, not shooting well didn’t bother Carey particularly.
“What disappointed me was when we missed our shots we broke down defensively. When you’re not making your shots you have to get stops. That’s something we’ve been able to do in the past,” he said.
It is the trademark of Mike Carey teams. They will battle you harder on defense than on offense, wear you down and beat you.
Against Virginia, that is just what occurred.
“We’re known defensively,” Carey said. “Our girls really stepped it up today and talked and communicated and did a great job. There was a lot of bodies on the floor there and I thought it was a great basketball game. We feel very fortunate. They are going to win a lot of games and hopefully we will, too. I thought our team battled for 40 minutes.”
The defense, like the offense, requires players working together as a unit and this WVU team has still been in the process of figuring that out. Not that it is a different group than a year ago, but without Bussie assignments changed, positions changed and leadership changed.
“I think it will come. It is coming along together better now,” center YaYa Dunning, herself a team leader, said before the Virginia game. “Playing so many people, we need to get a feel for one another and communicate better on the defensive end.”
The result was the Mountaineers held a Virginia team that had won five of six entering the game to just 25.8 percent shooting, pressing the 3-point shooters to the point that they made only 3 of 21, which is 14.3 percent.
Ball pressure also forced 23 turnovers to just seven assists.
That also solved the problem of fouling too much that cropped up in the two previous losses, especially when Iowa shot 50 free throws and Dunning had to go to the bench with early foul trouble.
“We have to play defense, stop penetration, smother the ball before it gets inside to YaYa because we know there isn’t that big a presence in the post area because Asya is not there,” guard Taylor Palmer said.
That’s the way the Mountaineer defense will have to perform against Marshall in tonight’s Capital Classic.
Marshall comes into the game at 4-3 after splitting two games in the Eastern Kentucky Tournament, losing to Jackson State before beating Presbyterian College with Shay Weaver, named to the all-tournament team, hitting five 3-point shots in each game.
She scored 36 points in the tournament on 12 of 21 shooting, making 10 of 17 3s, which is something the West Virginia defense will concentrate on.
Palmer is the Mountaineers’ leading scorer at 11.0 points a game while Christal Caldwell averages 10.3 and Dunning 9.7.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.