By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It was a game Mike Carey could ill afford to lose, yet he lost it, and that wasn’t the biggest loss of the night.
Not even close.
See, while West Virginia University dropped the final-regular season game to Texas on Tuesday evening down in Austin, 58-45, a game Carey thought the Mountaineers needed to win to assure themselves a place in the NCAA Tournament, they lost junior forward Jess Harlee.
To a knee injury.
Yes, another knee injury.
Their third of the season.
And it seems like the 200th of Carey’s career as WVU women’s basketball coach.
The conversation on Tuesday afternoon went something like this:
“You coached Yelena Leuchanka, right?”
“She had two, right?”
“And Meg Bulger, she had two?”
“And this year it was Asya Bussie and Akilah Bethel and now Jess Harlee?”
“Hard to believe.”
“And didn’t Ramika McGee have a knee?”
“And Vanessa House?”
“Jessica Capers had one in 2009, right?”
“LaQuanda Brandon, Kate Glusko.”
And there were probably others, to say nothing of Lanay Montgomery, who came to WVU this year with a knee she injured in high school and is rehabbing it this year.
It’s enough to make you wonder how and why it keeps happening here, but if you look into it you find there as many knee surgeries in women’s basketball as there are Tommy John surgeries in major league baseball.
Think of WVU’s knees this year … three injuries on a 14-player team. That’s proportionately like having 20 knee surgeries in a season on a football team.
A survey a number of years back showed there are far more knee injuries in women’s basketball and soccer than there is in men’s basketball and soccer.
Sometimes the timing stinks. Connecticut star Shea Ralph a few years ago saw a knee go out for the third time in her career in the finals of the Big East Tournament, keeping her out of the NCAA Tournament.
That same year Tennessee had been dominating the sport but missed the NCAAs because its star, Tamika Catchings, the national player of the year the season before, tore an anterior cruciate ligament in January.
It’s been estimated that one in 10 female college athletes suffers a major knee injury (usually an ACL tear) every year. That’s about five times more than men and it is startling stuff.
And if they were to just study what has gone on at WVU, the experts might be stunned.
Harlee’s injury came just before halftime with the ball loose on the baseline. Carey was at the end and isn’t sure what happened.
“There’s no doubt she injured the knee. There was a lot of pain,” he said.
Harlee had become as important a player as Carey had on the team, a player who came off the bench and offered shutdown defense and a kind of energy that took the Mountaineers to another level.
“It’s just amazing,” Carey said. “Jess has been playing so well, a lot of energy, a lot of heart. When she got hurt it was like a big letdown for everybody. You could just see the air go out of the players.”
They hadn’t played well in the first half, couldn’t make a shot, but they had a chance … until the injury closed out the evening for them.
Now there’s the Big 12 Tournament and they have to do it without Harlee … and Bussie … and Bethel … and Montgomery.
“We’ll try to regroup again,” Carey said. “We’ve done this a lot of different times.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.