By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Way back on Feb. 12, before No. 25 Oklahoma State invaded the Coliseum to face West Virginia’s women’s basketball team, Coach Mike Carey laid out what he felt it would take for his team to get into the NCAA tournament this year.
“I told the players there are six games left and we need to win at least four of them,” Carey said.
The next night his Mountaineers went out and promptly lost to the Cowboys.
Now their backs were against the wall because they knew they had to face No. 1 Baylor in the penultimate game of the regular season, an almost certain loss, putting them in the position of having to win every other game.
They responded well, winning three straight after that Oklahoma State loss prior to their Saturday night beat down by the top-ranked Bears before the largest crowd ever to see women’s basketball played in Morgantown, and now they face their final game of the regular season tonight on the road at Texas.
“I said we have to win four of six and we’re right on schedule,” Carey said following the Baylor game.
Texas is not a strong team, sitting next-to-last in the Big 12 with a 4-13 record in conference play, 11-17 overall compared to WVU’s 9-8 and 17-11 record.
But this 8:30 p.m. game will be Senior Night and that’s always emotional and can offer up a challenge.
Certainly Texas doesn’t fear the Mountaineers, who could win by only 53-49 at home in the season’s first meeting.
And Texas is 8-6 on its home court.
One key for West Virginia is to get its leading scorer, Christal Caldwell, back on target. Caldwell scored 16 points in the first Texas game on 7 of 13 shooting but has slumped lately.
While the leading scorer against Baylor with 14 points, she hit only four of 16 shots and in her last six games has hit only 22 of 87 shots, just 25.3 percent.
“I can’t find the basket,” she admitted after the Baylor game.
Caldwell did lead WVU in scoring in each game last week and remains the team’s leading scorer with an average of 13.0 points a game.
Senior Ya Ya Dunning, who will be playing the final regular season game of her career after closing out her home career against Baylor, is the second leading scorer with 10.3 points a game. She also leads in rebound with 6.3 per game.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the Mountaineers has been its depth, Carey able to play 12 players, eight of them averaging double-figure minutes a game and the others averaging right at 9 minutes a game.
Junior Jess Harlee and freshman Bria Holmes have each provided the biggest spark off the bench this season. Harlee averages 5.8 points per league game as the leading scorer out of the reserves, while Holmes chips in 5.6 points per Big 12 outing. Harlee has collected the second-most steals for the team with 33 in Big 12 play and 43 overall and normally plays the toughest defense on the floor.
Three Texas players average double-figure scoring numbers, led by junior Chassidy Fussell with 14.5 points per game in all games. Fussell is also the Longhorns’ leading 3-point shooter with 43.
Sophomore Nneka Enemkpali averages 12.9 points and shoots 44.7 percent from the field.
The Longhorns have out-rebounded league opponents by a margin of 5.9 rebounds per game, the third-highest in the league. A large part of the rebounding efforts can be credited to freshman Imani McGee-Stafford, who averages 9.5 boards per league game, the fourth-highest average in the conference. Behind McGee-Stafford, Enemkpali averages 7.8 rebounds and Fussell pulls down 5.6 rebounds in Big 12 games.
McGee-Stafford rounds out the Longhorns’ top three scorers with 11.2 points per game in the Big 12 while shooting 46.2 percent (78-169) from the field.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.