By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team is playing for more than just a victory today when Oklahoma comes to the Coliseum for a 2 p.m. game.
First on the agenda is recognition, for with a victory the Mountaineers and what would then be a 16-2 record would surely crack the Top 25 for the first time this season, although coach Mike Carey downplays the meaning of that.
“It really doesn’t matter,” he said before Friday’s practice. “It’s all about seedings for the NCAA, not the Top 25.”
While this is true, it is nice to see a reward during the season for the kind of year WVU is having, including a pair of road upsets of Top 25 teams. The Mountaineers defeated No. 11/13 Oklahoma State 71-67, in Stillwater, and 73-59 over No.13/11 Iowa State in Ames.
More motivation for the Mountaineers comes, however, in the form of revenge, Oklahoma having beaten them twice last season, once erasing a 20-point lead held by WVU at halftime.
“I brought it up right after the Iowa State game,” Carey said. “I told them they have to play hard for 40 minutes.”
Oklahoma comes in with one of the top players in the Big 12, Aaryn Ellenburg, the league’s third-leading scorer at 19.1 points a game, also averaging better than 21 points a game in just Big 12 games.
“She’s a great player,” Carey said. “She can hit a 3, drive and has a nice pull-up jumper that can get you off balance.”
The last time a great player came into the Coliseum, Odyssey Sims of Baylor, she went off for a record 48 points against WVU.
WVU brings a different look into the game than it had the last time it played here.
Carey finally got across to point guard Linda Stepney that he needed her to be an offensive presence as a scorer, and she hit for a career-high 16 points against Iowa State, including four 3s.
“Each time she hit a 3 you’d have thought we won the national championship, the girls were so excited” Carey said. “They’ve been trying to get her to shoot more, too.”
“It gives my teammates confidence, and they like it,” Stepney said. “They feel it gives them another scorer on the floor.”
Stepney said she’s been more aggressive the last three games but teams had not yet begun playing her any differently.
“I have to build on it,” she said.
Sophomore guard Bria Holmes leads the Mountaineers in scoring with 13.5 points per game, while senior center Asya Bussie adds 13.4 points, and senior guards Christal Caldwell and Taylor Palmer round out the top four scorers with 11.7 and 11.5 points per game, respectively.
Bussie is WVU’s leading rebounder with 7.5 boards per game, followed by junior forwards Crystal Leary and Averee Fields with 5.1 and 4.6 rebounds per game, respectively.
WVU averages 77.9 points per game, while limiting opponents to 59.4 points per game. WVU’s only loss in league play thus far is to Baylor.
Oklahoma was the favorite in the Big 12 preseason poll. The Sooners returned four starters and seven overall letter winners from a team that went 24-11 and 11-7 in Big 12 play, making it to the NCAA Sweet 16. This season, the Sooners added six newcomers to their roster.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.