The West Virginia women’s basketball team learned the hard way that the NCAA tournament doesn’t offer second chances.
With 29 regular season wins and a share of the regular season Big 12 Conference title, the Mountaineers were destined for a deep run in NCAA tournament. Although Notre Dame and Baylor received most of the attention throughout the regular season, the Mountaineers, who finished the season with five losses, were certainly not a team to be taken lightly.
But that is the beauty of the NCAA tournament – regular season records and accolades are whipped away and all hopes can be shattered with a loss.
Shooting and rebounding woes caused for a rare lackluster night in Baton Rouge, La., as No. 7-seed LSU upset the Mountaineers 76-67 for yet another early exit in the tournament. Despite a 274-146 career coaching record at WVU, head coach Mike Carey hasn’t made it past the second round of the tournament since he joined the program in 2001.
For five WVU seniors, their careers have ended uncharacteristically. The Tigers out-rebounded WVU 55-40, and the 55 rebounds are the most WVU has given up since 2011 when Miya Moore and UConn snatched 56.
The Mountaineers were 25-1 this season when not being out-rebounded, but just 5-4 when they were out-rebounded.
“I hate it,” said WVU guard Christal Caldwell of how her career ended. “I know deep down in our heart we didn’t play the best game and didn’t do some of the things that we’ve done all year long. It hurts to go out like that.”
Center Aysa Bussie scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in her final game in a Mountaineer uniform. She finishes her career with 1,497 points – which is good for 11th in school history.
Bussie’s fast break layup with three minutes left in the game was WVU’s only field goal for more than a five-minute span.
On Monday, Carey said he liked his team’s chances in a close game down the stretch, because his team had proven to do just that throughout the season. But it wasn’t meant to be on Tuesday night.
“We just lost our focus and weren’t defending,” Bussie said. “Just down the stretch, we didn’t do the things we were supposed to do.”
Despite shooting 43 percent from the field in the regular season, the Tigers held WVU to just 19-63 from the field for 30.2 percent.
“I’m proud of our players. They had a heck of a year and won 30 basketball games,” Carey said. “But we felt like we have one away here today.
“(We committed) turnovers,” said WVU senior guard Brooke Hampton. “They responded to our streaks. They transitioned well. But I’m very proud of this team. We didn’t reach our goal, but I still love these girls and they’ll always have a special place in my heart.”