The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 24, 2011

‘You can’t coach size’

Baylor’s Griner major obstacle in loss that ended WVU’s season

MORGANTOWN — There is an old saying in basketball, its originator lost to the ages, but one suspects it came moments after the legendary Wilt Chamberlain first walked on a basketball floor for Overbrook High in Philadelphia as a 7-foot freshman.

“You can’t coach size,” the saying goes, and it has yet to be disproved.

Coaches can teach you how to shoot, how to play defense, how to dribble and how to pass. They can teach you the zone defense and the dribble-drive offense.

They can’t teach you to be 6-feet, 8-inches tall and, if you happen to combine that with the athletic skills that Brittney Griner of Baylor has ... well, it doesn’t hardly matter what you do.

This was especially a difficult situation for West Virginia University coach Mike Carey as he prepared to play Briner and her Baylor Bears in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Waco, Texas, on Tuesday night in a game that would prove to be WVU’s final game of the year.

He had no one who can stand there and look her in the eye, but he also had a team that was deficient shooting from the outside. Griner’s greatest skill is blocking shots, and West Virginia’s best way to score is to drive and pass inside and challenge the other team’s big person, hopefully forcing them to foul themselves onto the bench.

That, of course, fits right in with Carey’s persona, which is to be aggressive and try to beat a team at its strength.

The result was quite predictable, even though she was bothered by a couple of fouls in the first half and had to sit out some, Griner scored 30 points and blocked eight shots while seemingly altering 88 other ones in Baylor’s 82-68 victory.

It was one more point that WVU’s senior star Liz Repella would score in her final game, netting 29 to complete a tremendous NCAA tournament in which she scored a season-high 26 and then a season-higher 29 points.

Despite being down most of the game, often by a great deal, the Mountaineers managed to push their way back into the game in the second half, cutting the lead to seven, but in the end it came down to an inability to deal with the one thing they could do nothing about — Griner’s size.

“Our girls did not quit. They kept playing hard,” Carey said.

To him, that turns the evening into a moral victory of sorts, for it can be quite disheartening to drive to the basket and get what you think is an open shot only to see a big hand at the end of a 9-foot wingspan swat the ball away.

“They did what they had to do,” Carey said of his team. “This game was either going to be called close or it was going to let you get physical. Well, the game was called close and because of that we got several people in foul trouble and all of that. It is what it is.”

He was not knocking the officials. They were fair and consistent. It was just that his one chance was to challenge Griner and try to foul her out. The Mountaineers wanted to get physical with Griner, to wear her down, to push her away from the basket, but could not do it.

“We have seen teams push them out like that and get away with it,” Carey said.

His team couldn’t get away with it.

Then they tried to double, but when they did they couldn’t stop Griner from finding the open person cutting to the basket.

“We were ready to go at her,” Repella said. “We knew she was going to block some shots, but we weren’t going to shy away or try to alter our shots. You know, coach always says with a shot blocker, you can’t fade away from them because they’re going to block. You either have to go into them and they’re going to call it or not. So we just continued to attack and try to get into her body.”

The late run came after WVU senior point guard Sarah Miles had to be helped from the floor with a career-ending knee injury, much the way the men’s Da’Sean Butler went down against Duke in his final West Virginia game.

Freshman Brooke Hampton came on and ran the team as it closed the gap to put a scare into Baylor.

“Our guards did a good job of getting out in the passing lanes and getting ball pressure. We got a couple of turnovers and got a couple of easy ones down at the other end and hit a couple of shots,” Carey said. “It was as simple as that. We made a run there and they had to take a timeout. Then they went back to Griner and we kind of kept fouling there again.

“Sarah Miles goes out, our starting point guard, and we bring a freshman in. I thought she did a good job as a freshman coming in, in that kind of situation in this atmosphere.”

And so it ended, the Mountaineers finishing a season that they thought could be special in a not-so-special 24-10, losing 10 of the final 18 games and finishing at 8-8 in the Big East.

Repella wound up leading the Mountaineers in scoring with an even 500 points to average 14.7 a game, followed by senior Madina Ali with 12.4 to go with 7.1 rebounds a game. Miles finished an injury-plagued season with 113 assists to finish fourth all-time in career assists at WVU.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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