Column - Mountaineers have a lot to gain from matchup with No. 2 Notre Dame
Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 9, 2012 02:02
The West Virginia women's basketball team is two days away from facing the No. 2 team in the country. Before the Mountaineers travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame, I think it's important to recognize what can be gained from the women's edition of this rivalry.
As of right now, head coach Mike Carey and the Mountaineers are on the bubble. I believe if the season ended right now, West Virginia would most likely be on the outside of the tournament looking in – but just barely.
Last Saturday, West Virginia took down No. 12 Louisville 66-50 – a victory that puts a solid foot forward in solidifying a spot in the NCAA tournament.
With losses to Cal State-Northridge, St. Bonaventure and Providence, the Mountaineers have a fair share of blemishes on its resume. However, victories over ranked opponents Louisville and UCLA will look strong at season's end.
I feel confident saying that when the regular season ends, West Virginia will find a way to make the Field of 64.
The Mountaineers will likely end the season with more than 20 wins and a solid record in conference play. What remains to be seen, however, is how this team will perform against its next stretch of opponents – a few of which will receive strong seeds for the tournament.
Saturday is a fantastic opportunity for this team. Regardless of the outcome of the game, West Virginia has plenty of room to use the contest to get better – both on the court and on paper.
Redshirt sophomore guard Christal Caldwell has become the team's most consistent offensive threat. Freshman point guard Linda Stepney continues to play a bigger role with each passing game. Notre Dame will challenge both of them in a way that only Connecticut has done so far this season.
There's no doubt that the victory over Louisville was the team's most consistent, complete game of the year. With a week to prepare for Notre Dame, it will be interesting to see if that momentum has disappeared or if it has intensified and refined itself throughout a week of practice.
Both Carey and junior center Asya Bussie believe the week off wouldn't hurt the team. I find myself agreeing with this sentiment.
Sometimes a long break between games can halt a hot streak, but I feel that won't be the case this time around.
If West Virginia can hang with Notre Dame in the first half, there's a good chance the game will ultimately end on a positive note.
Then again, if the Fighting Irish jump ahead by double-digits early, things could get ugly.
Something to watch for will be how West Virginia responds to Notre Dame's scoring runs. The Fighting Irish leads the country in scoring and field goal percentage. Twice this season, Notre Dame has scored over 120 points in a game.
Suffice to say, Notre Dame will score, and score in bunches, but what is more important is how the Mountaineers respond to the firepower.
If West Virginia can go into South Bend, keep the score within a reasonable margin and get solid contributions from the regulars, the selection committee will view the game favorably. A close loss against a team like Notre Dame doesn't look too shabby.
The confidence and experience this contest can bring to the team is unparalleled by any other regular-season game remaining. Carey knows this; his team knows this.
How will the Mountaineers use the opportunity to play against the No. 2 team in the country? We'll find out Sunday.