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November 5, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Bigs’ will help WVU women

MORGANTOWN — As Mike Carey remembers it, he was in Augusta, Ga., on a hot summer afternoon, crammed into a gym for one of those Nike recruiting camps that bring together the best high school girl players in the country.

One of the players he was interested in was an Ayana Dunning, a top-line front court player out of Columbus, Ohio. As the West Virginia University women’s basketball coach sat there, elbow to elbow with nearly every coach who is anyone in the business, he was taking notes on a notepad.

“I was looking down and Ya Ya (Dunning’s nickname) misses a pass and it hits me right in the head,” Carey said, laughing at the memory. “I told her, ‘You owe me a visit after that.’ I haven’t seen straight since.”

Dunning had one more kick in the head for Carey.

She enrolled at LSU.

Coaches know you win some, you lose some and some go to LSU, but you never really close the book on them.

And sure enough, one year of jambalaya was enough Dunning.

It wasn’t that she played badly for a freshman. In fact, it was the quite the opposite. She averaged 5.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.2 minutes of play per game and showed that could compete with the nation’s best when given the chance.

Facing No. 18 Vanderbilt she authored her season high and a double-double with 20 points on 8 of 12 shooting and 10 rebounds, then facing undefeated No. 1 national champion Connecticut she put home 12 points.

It just wasn’t her cup of hot sauce.

“LSU is a great school, and they have a great program, but it’s not for everybody, and it wasn’t for me,” Dunning said.

She remembered West Virginia then, got a release from LSU, visited and eased Carey’s pain by enrolling.

Due to NCAA rules, she sat out last year but now is expected to be a big contributor on the nation’s No. 11-ranked team that takes to the floor against Fairmont State for an exhibition game Saturday night.

Carey has an overflow of riches down low this year with Asya Bussie and Natalie Burton back from last year to be joined by Dunning, and he plans to take advantage of it.

He plans, when the matchups are right, to use two “bigs” down low in an effort to control the boards and get the break going and to “pound the paint,” as he put it, out of the set offense.

Dunning, however, may develop into the key for a year ago Bussie didn’t score as much as you would expect, averaging only 6 points a game. If Dunning can get her basketball legs back after missing a year, she will offer a scoring alternative.

“In the end, I think it was kind of beneficial for me because I am a transfer, so it gave me a year to get to know the players and the playing style here,” she said. “I just had to look at it from next year’s perspective. I was just practicing, so my preseason was just a year longer than everyone else’s.

“In my year off, I worked on my strength and conditioning the most. That was the most critical thing for me.”

Bussie also has worked on her game hard. She said rebounding had been a weakness, so she concentrated there, but she knows that she needs to score more, too.

“My goal this year is to average a double-double,” she said.

Points are important to a team that last year relied on its defense to win 29 games and reach the Big East final before falling to Connecticut.

  “We have to score in the 70s this season,” said Carey.

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

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