The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 25, 2014

WVU poised to battle LSU in second round

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s victory over Albany in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center of the LSU campus was anything but a thing of beauty … and that’s just fine with Mike Carey, who is coaching basketball, not judging a beauty pageant.

“For those of you who followed us throughout the year, we played a lot of ugly games and still was able to win,” he said. “You know, we really don’t get caught up in pretty. I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”

And considering that the second round game finds his No. 2-seeded Mountaineers playing on No. 7-seeded LSU’s home court, you might suspect he expects to need another ugly effort to pull off the victory and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in his career.

First, though, you must define playing ugly, and in this case it’s playing hard-nosed, physical defense, banging the offensive boards and doing whatever you can do to make the home team feel uncomfortable in what should be comfortable surroundings.

It’s something this team which sports five seniors has been able to do over the past couple of seasons, so much so that rather than being intimidated on the road they have been the intimidator, even so much as ending Baylor’s 35-game Big 12 winning streak on the Bears’ home floor while tying them for the conference regular season championship.

“This team is used to playing away in front of big crowds on someone else’s home floor and we usually tend to focus a lot more,” said sophomore Bria Holmes, who somehow overcame a 1-for-12 shooting performance from 3-point range against Albany to still score 20 points.

The trick in facing a team on its home floor is to withstand the early energy that they come out displaying, powered by the excitement of having the crowd behind them.

“We expect them to come out hot and try to get the crowd involved, but we just have to play our defense, the defense we’ve played all season,” said senior center Asya Bussie. “We expect it will be a roller coaster. I think it’s going to be a full 40-minute game. It’s going to come down to the stretch.”

And that, of course, is when West Virginia has been its best all season, Carey often stating the team’s objective was to be in the game going into the final four minutes.

Make no doubt the LSU players understand that playing at home gives them an advantage.

“Coming into the P-MAC it’s always nice to play in front of our people here,” said Theresa Plaisance, their two-time All-SEC forward. “I love these people here. They’re a big part of the reason why I came here, just the fan support and the support of everyone.

“You can walk into a store and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you play Sunday, good luck.’ Just little things like that make this place special. Having a second chance to play in our home is unbelievable to us. Its something we don’t take for granted and in return we want to do the best we can so we keep them on their feet and keep them excited, but we’re just a tumbleweed and when they go, we go, and it really helps us go.”

“I think the energy our fans bring is just so electrifying. I’ve said it many times, but they really are the sixth man on the court and they help us tremendously,” said Jeanne Kinney, who also offered a warning.

“I also think West Virginia is not here by fluke. They’re a great team. I mean, they’re a No 2 seed and their record proves that. When it comes to the NCAA, everyone is going to play their best whether you have experience or not. We’re all Division I players, so you should be able to have the skill set to just go out and play and do your thing.”

In the end, though, winning on the road involves imposing your will upon your opponent and WVU’s will is and always will be under Carey a defensive will. It matters not that LSU scored 98 points against Georgia Tech while shooting 50 percent.

That wasn’t a non-stop, in-your-face defense like the one Carey preaches.

“Their defense can really disrupt you offensively with your rhythm,” said LSU Coach Nikki Caldwell.

And, while LSU has the crowd behind it creating motivation, WVU has its own motivation in the fact that as a No. 2 seed it has to play possible consecutive games on someone else’s home court, a potential matchup at Louisville awaiting in the Sweet 16.

They feel they haven’t gotten the respect due a Top 10 team all season.

“I feel like we have a target on our back and it’s been like that all season,” Bussie said. “We don’t get the respect that we should get and we just have to go out there and prove it every game. I think this whole season we have had to prove people wrong and just show that we are a good team. We deserve to be a No. 2 seed and I think that’s what we continue to do even throughout this tournament.”

“I think we were excited we got the win over Albany but we were definitely like we won this game we’ve got to move on to the next one, so we’re focused and we have a goal ahead of us and we can’t let these teams stop us from getting there,” said senior Christal Caldwell, who scored a career-high 26 against Albany. And the Mountaineers will be looking for more of the same against LSU tonight.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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