The Times West Virginian

February 28, 2012

WVU shakes off rough start, beats Pitt

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — It had been the first half from hell for West Virginia women’s basketball coach Mike Carey as he headed off the Coliseum court for the locker room, his Mountaineer team somehow tied with a Pitt team sporting an 0-and-15 Big East record and showing why.

The score, 18-18, told you all you needed to know about the quality of play, and Carey had a few things he wanted to say to his team, none of it including the words “nice job.” As he wandered toward the tunnel he was intercepted like one of his team’s first-half passes that had created four assists against 12 turnovers.

This was not a defender, however, but a TV announcer looking for a halftime interview. At the moment he would rather have walked across a bed of hot coals rather than do an interview, but even on the women’s level TV rules the world.

“I had to take about five deep breaths,” Carey admitted, “and the guy is saying, ‘Look at the cameras.’ I was embarrassed to look at the cameras. I just couldn’t wait to get into the players at halftime, believe me. That was the wrong time to have an interview. I wanted to run in here.”

As it was, Carey eventually got there, straightened out what was wrong and his team went on to win, 60-42, finishing the regular season at a surprising 21-8, 11-5, in the Big East, giving them a tie with Georgetown for fourth place, but they wind up with a fifth seed in the conference tournament due to the Hoyas owning the tiebreaker.

“Last year at this time with the team we had we were worrying about getting into the NCAAs. This year I feel comfortable we’re in, and that comes after losing a lot of seniors last year and 80 percent of our scoring,” Carey said.

In fact, Carey admits he couldn’t imagine this happening when he looked at his team before the season.

“If someone told me we would be 21-8 I would have told them they were crazy,” Carey said. “But this team just bought in and started to believe in the defense. Aysa (Bussie), Yaya (Dunning) and Jess (Harlee) took over the leadership role.”

And things went right, right enough to even own a victory over No. 2 Notre Dame.

But then there were moments when it didn’t look like they could beat Pitt, a team with no player beyond her sophomore year and that would hear the chants of “Oh-and-16” from the crowd during the closing minutes of the game.

So what was it that Carey told his team once he finally stopped doing his best Oprah Winfrey imitation?

“I told them if I could I would go home but Oliver Luck would fire me,” he said.

Oh, he also asked his guards if they might not be a little bit more aggressive and maybe, when left open for eight or 10 seconds, take the open shot they were passing up in the first half.

“I mean the fans were yelling at me because the guards weren’t shooting the ball,” Carey said. “Who told them not to shoot it? Who told them not to drive? I mean, everyone behind me is a coach ... and half of them are relatives of mine.”

His team took him up on it, took charge in the second half and picked up the victory going away with everyone on the team scoring except for the one person they tried so hard to get a couple of points for, senior Natalie Burton, who was the only senior honored on Senior Night.

Carey started her, where she usually comes off the bench, and ran some plays early trying to get her some points, but failed, then he put her in late as the fans chanted “We Want Natalie,” but she never could get the ball to drop.

Bussie could, leading with 14 points while Pitt’s Briana Kiesel scored half her team’s 42.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.