By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A year ago West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team played itself into the final of the Big East Tournament, only to be run over by a roaring freight train Connecticut on its way to another NCAA championship.
The feeling then was that WVU was a year too early to win the Big East.
The way things have gone the second half of this year, however, the feeling is now that West Virginia may be a year too late.
After a 16-0 start, the Mountaineer women lost all the continuity they had on offense and staggered in with a 10th seed in the Big East Tournament, which opens today with West Virginia taking on a Cincinnati team it defeated, 72-44, during the regular season at 6 p.m. in Hartford, Conn.
A year ago WVU started its run with a double-bye, but in many ways the Mountaineers are glad this year that they have to play the first day.
To begin with, they coming off a solid Senior Day victory over a good St. John’s team and want to pick up on that momentum.
“We need to play. We don’t need to sit for a game or two games,” coach Mike Carey said.
It is also important for the NCAA Tournament, which follows the Big East. WVU probably is in the field, but it certainly isn’t as certain as if the Mountaineers win a couple of Big East Tournament games.
“We’ve got to win games. I don’t know the committee so I don’t know what they’re looking for, but we just have to win,” said senior guard Liz Repella, the team’s leading scorer.
The Mountaineers, as it is with every team, see the start of tournament play as a rebirth, that all the bad from the past can be cast aside in a new, far more challenging environment.
“This is my favorite part of the year,” Repella admitted. “This is why every player plays basketball, for this time of the year, for March Madness. It’s fun to go there and play in that environment.”
It’s now one and done, first in the Big East, then the NCAA.
“Every team, every player knows it’s one and out. They will give it their best. Every single game is going to be a battle,” Repella said.
Even the coaches feel that way. They coach a bit different, a bit quicker to make moves for the one thing they don’t have is the luxury of time.
“In my opinion you can’t worry hurting feelings. It’s one and done. I’m a little quicker, a little less patient. It’s not like you get a second chance. It’s very important to focus right off the bat,” Carey said.
Having tasted a final, WVU wants to get back to it.
“When we played UConn last year we played them good for one half. Then they went on a run and we couldn’t score. They were a really good team last year. We would have had to play our A-plus game to win,” Repella said.
In some ways, you wonder if reaching the final is worth it if you can’t capture the championship.
“When you lose in the final, nobody remembers who lost the championship game, only who won. It’s a little disheartening,” Carey said.
“If you get to the final and lose, it’s not great. Now you’ve used all this energy up; you didn’t give them a couple of days off to get fresh. You didn’t get to work on fundamentals like everyone else did for the NCAAs. There are advantages and disadvantages.”
In the past, the team was able to shake off the disappointment because it was a team of sophomores and juniors. They now are seniors and there is urgency.
“My sophomore year, even my junior year, you lose, yeah it hurts, but it’s always in the back of your mind ‘I have one more year.’ This is the senior year, the last go-around. If you don’t do it now you will never do it,” Repella said. “Every time March comes around you will always be thinking about it if you don’t do it now.”
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.