The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 17, 2010

WVU women’s basketball team thinking big

MORGANTOWN — The words flowed so easily out of Liz Repella’s mouth that you almost said something like, yeah, that’s right, but as they sunk in you began to wonder if she really knew what she had just said.

“We want to win the national championship,” the leader of the West Virginia women’s basketball team said. “That’s our goal, to win the national championship.”

National championship?

In women’s basketball?

Isn’t that the one called the Connecticut Invitational?

National championship?

How about the Big East championship?

That would sound equally as absurd, considering that Connecticut plays in the Big East.

Yet Repella is a thoughtful, intelligent young lady, a scholar-athlete who doesn’t just blurt things out before she thinks them out. She admits four years ago, when she came out of Steubenville to play at West Virgina, she’d never have thought like that.

“No, not really,” she said, thinking back to that freshman year. “But we realize we have the talent now to do it. This is going to be the year to do it. We have everyone returning from a 29-win season, so everyone is working hard and we don’t want any letdowns.”

Normally, talk is not that brash in the preseason of a sport, but the reality is that Coach Mike Carey has been slowly building and building toward a run at Connecticut, the Big East title and the national title.

“I think we have to beat them eventually,” Carey said when asked if his team could shoot for the stars without beating UConn. “I agree with that 100 percent, but no one has beat them over the last two years.

“We have beat everyone in the conference since I’ve been here ... except Connecticut. We need to do that, whether it’s this year or in the future.”

It was just a decade ago, in 2000, with Alexis Basil coaching at WVU that an angry UConn team came to town, the game switched to Morgantown High’s gym, and they took it out on West Virginia, 100-28, the absolute low point in the program’s history.

It didn’t get much better the next year, UConn beating WVU, 97-34, in 2001.

But now Carey is cutting into the margin.

“I thought our girls, for 25 minutes we played them well last year in the two games. Then all of a sudden in a 10-minute span, it was over. We can’t let that happen this year,” he said.

The scores didn’t show much progress, UConn winning the first matchup, 80-47, and the second, 60-32, but WVU was down only 8 at the half of the first game and down 10 at halftime of the second, a game in which the Mountaineers could score but 12 second half points.

This year, though, WVU believes it has what it takes to compete at the highest level, although the Mountaineers have already suffered a tough setback, point guard Sara Miles, the player who makes the team go, suffered a wrist injury and will miss the next four to six weeks.

That puts the load on freshman Brooke Hampton from Colts Neck, N.J.

“It’s hard for Brooke. She’s a freshman,” Repella said. “She’s trying to lead a team as a freshman. It will make Brooke better and Sara will come back story after her injury.”

“Brooke is being thrown into the fire right now,” Carey said. “She’s taken the wrath from me, but is she going to get better? Absolutely.”

That’s the upside. There is a downside.

“Sara is going to be behind,” Carey said. “We changed our fast break. We changed some of our offenses. It will take her some time when she comes back.”

The offense that they changed is important in that Carey believes his team can go “big” now, playing two post players with three to choose from — last year’s star freshman Asya Bussie, who is 6-4; Natalie Burton, who is 6-5 and came back stronger and much improved; and newcomer Ayana Dunning, who is 6-3.

That should allow them to muscle with teams like Connecticut, while players like Miles, Repella and Madina Ali can handle the outside game.

“I think we can compete for a national title,” Carey said. “We have a lot of veterans. We have great size this year. We have size in the paint, which I believe will really help come tournament time. When you get in the tournament, you have to be able to go in the paint because you don’t always shoot well.”

Like last year, when they let UConn run away while the Mountaineers were scoring 12 second-half points.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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