Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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MICKEY FURFARI

March 25, 2014

WVU women hope to beat LSU—ugly if not pretty

MORGANTOWN — With so many upsets in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it was breathtaking to see West Virginia hold on for a 76-61 win against Albany in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament.

It certainly wasn’t an easy task, as anyone who watched the No. 2-seeded Mountaineers cut short the No. 15-seeded New York college’s Great Danes Sunday afternoon in Baton Rouge, La.

Now the even greater question is: Can the WVU women rise up and defeat seventh-seeded Louisiana State University on its home court in the second round?

The two teams clash at 9:30 p.m. Eastern today in an arena named for Pete Maravich, LSU’s all-time greatest men’s team player ever and a West Virginia native.

ESPN is scheduled to televise this vastly critical contest. The winner advances to the Sweet 16, which WVU has yet to reach in coach Mike Carey’s 13 years here.

LSU already had eliminated 10th-seeded Georgia Tech in a high-scoring 98-78 shootout before the completion of the WVU-Albany contest. Four double-digit scorers led the way.

So the Tigers should have a slight edge in rest in addition to the huge home floor advantage.

In capturing a 30th victory in one season, the Mountaineers set another all-time record for West Virginia’s 41 years of women’s basketball — the last 13 under Carey, whose name appears in the mix for National Coach of the Year consideration.

Just how far his team can advance in the NCAA tourney obviously will be a factor in voters’ consideration in the balloting process.

This will be the fifth meeting with the Tigers, who lead the WVU women’s all-time series 4-0.

LSU prevailed in the most recent matchup by 61-53 last season in the Florida International University Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 23, 2012.  

That series dates back to 1985 in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. LSU won 69-57 in a first-round meeting.

A victory tonight not only would be special to Carey and his crew, but it would be the program’s first — and only — trip to the Sweet 16 since 1992, when the NCAA Tournament consisted of 48 teams, not 64.      

This happens to be the WVU women’s team’s fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tourney and seventh in 10 years — all under Carey’s leadership.

To me, that’s a sign of consistently great recruiting and coaching as well as good player performance.

Make no mistake, this year’s group of WVU women — best ever in my opinion — can be even greater before this year ends. They readily admit, as do Carey and his assistants, that Sunday’s performance was both good and bad against Albany.

The Mountaineers built a steady 22-point lead during the first half. Then, with WVU committing 13 turnovers in the second half, the Great Danes battled back to within seven points.

That had to be scary. But WVU held on for dear life, as it did so many times, to wind up winning.

“You know, we really don’t get caught up in being pretty,” Carey was quoted after the game.

“I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.”

How could anyone argue with such a successful philosophy by one of WVU’s all-time winningest — and classiest — coaches I’ve ever known?

“We’ll be fine,” assured Carey, who’s not really disturbed. “I’m not going to worry about it.”

He believes Albany had a lot to do with his team’s inability to perform better than it did on Sunday.

Do the Mountaineers have to play better against LSU?

“Absolutely,” the veteran mentor replied.

The Tigers own a 20-12 record and probably are expecting a huge, vocal crowd of supporters.

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MICKEY FURFARI