By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team, again in survival mode after losing yet another key player for the year even before the season begins, opens its 2012-13 season against North Carolina-Wilmington at 7 p.m. today at the Coliseum.
Having lost star center Asya Bussie, the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder from a year ago to knee surgery, coach Mike Carey is looking for the rest of his team to step up and fill the void that is created by her absence.
“We’re still playing a lot of people,” said Carey, who could be running as many as 13 players in and out through the early season. “We’re not there yet. We don’t have our timing, and we are making turnovers. We have to take care of the ball a lot better.”
That in some ways is coach speak, for very few coaches enter a season feeling comfortable.
“As a coach, you’re never ready to start it. You think you need another month of practice,” Carey said.
In truth, he actually isn’t as bad off as you might imagine. He has in Ya Ya Dunning a center who can handle the spot left void by Bussie and who was going to be starting anyway. She is the leading returning rebounder.
He also has his point guard back in Linda Stepney to control the flow with a lot of backup. Injured early last year, Stepney took over the job in midseason and is capable of running the team in the tradition of a number of strong point guards under Carey.
“I’m probably tougher on point guards than I am on any other position. My first year here we had Yolanda Paige as a freshman and she went through hell the first year, but she continued to work and became a very good point guard,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of freshmen come in and start. Linda is one of them, and she’s playing with a lot of confidence now.”
His depth is such that one of his best players from a year ago, Jess Harlee, will be used coming off the bench.
“She brings so much energy and enthusiasm that she’s perfect in that role,” Carey said.
With Bussie out, Carey decided to go with three guards, Dunning and Christal Caldwall up front.
One player who may prove to be a difference maker was the star of the early-season scrimmage against Alderson-Broaddus, freshman Jennie Simms, another player with great energy and great skill who is the daughter of a former player at the University of Virginia, Darrick Simms.
“We are trying to get her to score a lot more,” Carey said. “She overpasses. It’s unbelievable; this team is so unselfish. I put people on the treadmill because they pass too much. It’s usually the other way around.
“I’m telling them all I’d rather they shoot it than turn it over. At least you have an opportunity to score. We’re having too many turnovers because we’re very unselfish. I think we need to be a little bit more selfish.
“At least if we put it on the rim we have an opportunity to rebound it if it doesn’t go in, but if you turn it over it’s usually a layup at the other end.”
The Mountaineers return to action quickly, going to Boston University for their first road game on Monday.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.