By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It was “Mike Carey Mustache” Day at the Coliseum as West Virginia’s No. 6-ranked Mountaineers took on Central Connecticut State in their final tune up for the Big East season, each young fan in the crowd of 2,513 being given a mustache upon entry.
By halftime it appeared as though Carey would have to give mustaches out to his players as disguises to escape what surely would be an angry mob, for not in all the days that this building has stood — even in the lowest days of the Alexis Basil regime — had a game deteriorated to such low levels.
As it was, some form of sanity was established in the second half with the addition of center Natalie Burton and point guard Brooke Hampton to the lineup, leading to a 63-37 triumph, but if you think that put a smile on anyone’s face you are terribly wrong.
The only saving grace for the Mountaineers was that it was a win and, as center Ya Ya Dunning would say, “an ugly win is better than a pretty loss any day.”
This one almost challenged that theory, however.
In the first half alone, West Virginia shot but 27.3 percent and somehow managed to miss — get this — eight layups.
Not that any of that mattered, for Central Connecticut contributed an incomprehensible 34 turnovers to the ugliness of the day.
It was the second straight game WVU sleepwalked though the first half, hitting only 18 percent of its shots in the first half of the previous game against St. Bonaventure, a rather ominous sign with the next game at Big East opponent Seton Hall scheduled for an early 12:30 p.m. start.
That WVU recovered in the second half was to the team’s credit, but Carey expressed real concern about his still unbeaten Mountaineers, now 14-0 on the season and winners of 27 straight at home.
“I told them that maybe the underclassmen ought to hold a meeting and talk to the seniors,” Carey said. “Usually it’s the other way around, but the second group we had in there moved the ball and played good. The upperclassmen, they were lackadaisical and I don’t know if I have the answer to it. I have to find a way to get that group motivated.”
The stat sheet told a terribly ugly story. The five starters in the game hit only 10 of 41 field goal attempts while the reserves hit 13 of 24, better than 50 percent.
Normally steady Liz Repella made just four of 16 shots from the field and Madina Ali, who came into the game fourth in the nation in field goal percentage at 63.5 percent, staggered through an ugly 0 for 7 day.
“Madina needs to quit getting two quick fouls and having to the sit out the whole first half,” Carey said. “We have to have her on the floor.”
Another problem is that Sarah Miles, the sparkplug point guard, is coming back from missing seven games with a knee injury after having missed much of pre-season practice. She missed a lot of work on the fast break Carey installed this year and that led to a lot of the messed up breaks that resulted in missed layups.
But Miles did contribute one crucial play in the second half after Central Connecticut State had run off six points to one for the Mountaineers, cutting the lead to nine. What’s more, Jessica Babe had just made a steal was breaking away ahead of the pack on a basket that could have narrowed the margin to seven.
Miles, however, came flying from behind and somehow caught up and knocked the ball away. It was a great defensive effort and one that lit a fire under the Mountaineers, who scored the next 21 points, holding scoreless for more than nine minutes.
Burton and Hampton, meanwhile, got the offense going, Burton scoring five points early in the half and Hampton running the break better and finishing with 11 points to lead WVU in scoring.
There was really only one other moment of note, that coming late in the game when Dunning, a healthy 6-foot-3 sophomore, set a screen at mid-court that caught 5-foot, 1-inch Alexzandria Dowdy unaware, leaving her laying dazed in the center circle as a time out had to be called.
“I felt so bad that no one yelled out to her,” Dunning said. “But I saw her after the game and she was all right.”
Too bad the same could not be said about Carey.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.