By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia may not have had the season Coach Mike Carey would have liked, but in the end it doesn’t matter as they found their way into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed, drawing No. 3 Delaware and their star player Elena Delle Donna on the Blue Hens’ home court in Newark at 12:15 p.m. Sunday.
Stunned when their own best player, Aysa Bussie, suffered an ACL injury just before the season was about to begin, the Mountaineers struggled through their first Big 12 season to finish at 17-13, 9-9 in conference play.
They put themselves on the bubble losing their final three games of the year.
“It is good we got in. To me that says the strength of the league, our reputation and some of the wins we had on the road; we’re happy to be in,” Carey said.
Delaware also had to struggle early in the season when Delle Donna, who averages 26 points a game for her career and is on pace to be the all-time No. 3 scorer in the college game, missed a month with symptoms of Lyme disease.
The Blue Hens lost consecutive games to Georgetown and Duquesne, the Dukes also owning a victory over WVU, without Delle Donna and lost to No. 9 Maryland in Delle Donna’s first game back.
She finished with 19 points and six rebounds but was a rusty 7 for 23 from the floor in 34 minutes.
“I think Elena gave everything she could. It’s really hard to be off for a long time and have your timing back,” Blue Hens coach Tina Martin said at the time. “It’s only her second game. I mean ... hello? There’s a lot of season left for her.”
She certainly put things together from that point on and led Delaware to 25 consecutive victories while averaging 23.3 points a game for the season.
Tall at 6-5, she can work both inside and out and hits 48 percent from 3-point range.
“She is a big-time player, needless to say,” Carey said. “Some of their other players are very good so you can’t just concentrate on her and let the other players have a career night. We’re going to have to be aware of where she’s at and try to do a good job on her, but also do a good job on the rest of them.”
However, when she was out Delaware was plagued with turnovers and you can bet WVU will turn up the defensive pressure in this game.
In many ways this is a better draw than they have had in the past. The past two years, playing in the 8-9 game, they faced the premier teams in the country on their home courts in the second round, losing to Stanford and Baylor after long travel.
“We have to play on Delaware’s home floor and that’s a good draw for us because it’s close, so hopefully we can get some fans there,” Carey said.
If WVU manages to pull off the upset they would face No. 3 seed North Carolina and should they reach the regional final they would go up most likely against No. 2 Kentucky, avoiding No. 1 seeds Baylor, Notre Dame and Stanford in the early rounds.
Should they get to the final of the Bridgeport Regional they would most likely face old Big East rival Connecticut.
When asked on TV if there was any team she felt could beat her Bears, Griner jokingly named the Miami Heat. At least she seemed to be joking.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.