By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Mike Carey’s West Virginia University women’s basketball team has defeated the No. 2 team in the nation but has never found a way to upset the nation’s top team.
It gets a chance again at 7 p.m. today when No. 1 Baylor, the defending national champion which has won 67 of its last 68 games, the last 25 in a row, and possesses the best player in America in Brittney Griner, comes to the Coliseum.
“We have an opportunity,” Carey said. “Any time you get an opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country you have to look forward to it.”
It’s a Family Night game. In addition, fans can purchase general admission tickets priced at $5 each online until 1 p.m. Saturday on wvugame.com. Parking is free and open to the public for women’s basketball games at the WVU Coliseum lots. There will be a parking shuttle from the Green Lot (on Van Voorhis Road) to the Coliseum starting at 5 p.m. and will run until 7:30 p.m. It will run again at the conclusion of the game for one hour. The round-trip cost per ticket is $4.
The game is not being aired live on ROOT Sports but will be shown on delay at 10 p.m.
It’s also Senior Night, and the team’s only senior, Ya Ya Dunning, will be honored.
Carey understands the challenge that his team faces, not only in Griner, who averages 22.1 points a game, 8.9 rebounds a game, and has blocked 110 shots.
By comparison, Dunning is West Virginia’s top shot blocker with 25.
Still, Carey believes his team has to challenge the 6-8 Griner, but he wants to mix things up.
“You have to come out and hit shots, make some threes. Otherwise, if you keep driving on Griner, she’ll block every shot. If we do drive it and she comes over, we have to find Ya Ya. We have to find someone to get some good looks,” Carey said.
“We have to continue to attack her. Hopefully they will call some fouls on her. Otherwise, it will be a long night. We have to play our defense and try to get some turnovers and get some fast breaks before she gets down there.”
WVU does have capable 3-point shooters in Taylor Palmer and Christal Caldwell, but the main strategy is to attempt to get Griner in foul trouble early.
“They are well coached. They play hard, but I saw them play Oklahoma the other night and Griner got in foul trouble and they struggled to score. … Baylor really struggled to score. If we can do that and get them in a situation in here, anything can happen,” Carey said.
In that game Oklahoma fell behind early, Baylor leading 22-6 eight minutes into the game when Griner suffered her second foul and went to the bench.
That allowed the Sooners to stage a comeback, outscoring Baylor, 24-15, the rest of the half ot trail by only seven at halftime. In fact, they actually had cut the deficit at one point to four before turning the ball over three straight times and letting Baylor go off on a 6-0 run.
The problem is that Baylor is not just Griner and Co.
“They have several McDonald’s All-Americans on the team. They start four seniors and a junior, and the junior is the point guard, who is probably the best in the country,” Carey said.
The point guard is Odyssey Simms, who averages 12.1 points a game while recording 138 assists in 24 games, an average of almost six per game.
The two teams played earlier this season at Baylor with the Bears winning, 76-58, despite 22 points from Christal Caldwell and 16 steals. Baylor won the game in the paint, outscoring WVU 43-26.
Griner had a big hand in that, scoring 26 points with 15 rebounds and nine blocks, just missing a triple-double.
“Great atmosphere, great crowd and a great place to play,” Carey said after the game. “I thought we competed for the most part. We missed a lot of foul shots. (Brittney) Griner is the best player in the country bar none.”
Now he has her at home in a game that would solidify him a choice spot in the NCAA Tournament if he and his ladies could pull off the upset.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.