Column - Resilient Mountaineers beginning to click at the right time
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 02:02
As the season winds down, there is one trait that every team in the country hopes to have come tournament time.
Resiliency, or the ability to recover from or adjust to stress or misfortune, isn't something that can be learned in practice. Resiliency is something that has to be learned – and that has to be developed in the heat of battle.
Resiliency is something that head coach Mike Carey is starting to see in his team on a nightly basis.
With three victories in the past three games, West Virginia has surged toward the top of the Big East standings. Now 9-3 in conference play, the Mountaineers are tied for third place with St. John's – which plays No. 2 Connecticut on Saturday.
Last Sunday, Carey and the Mountaineers did something that had previously never been done in program history – won on the road at Notre Dame.
The No. 2 ranked Fighting Irish led by 11 points with 13:05 left to play. They were at home, in a place where they had never lost to the Mountaineers.
Still, West Virginia was able to prevail.
Then, last night, the Mountaineers again showed a resilience that is becoming stronger with each game.
Rutgers had lost four consecutive games heading into last night – and it played like it.
The Scarlet Knights raced out to a 17-6 lead and eventually took a seven-point lead into the locker room at halftime.
Rutgers shot a scalding 71 percent from the field, led by junior center Monique Oliver, who connected on 7-of-8 attempts for a game-best 14 points.
In the second half, however, it was a completely different game.
West Virginia shook off whatever hangover it had from the Notre Dame upset and stuck it to Rutgers where it mattered most – defense.
The Mountaineers held Rutgers to 21 percent shooting in the second half. Oliver shot 0-for-3 from the field and failed to register another point.
Slowly but surely, the Mountaineers started to battle back. With 12:43 remaining in the game, West Virginia took its first lead since it was ahead 2-0 in the opening minutes of play.
Rutgers, with its back against the wall, stayed close and even held on to a slim 48-47 lead with 4:41 left to play.
Unfazed, the Mountaineers closed out the game on a 12-3 run – solidifying their third consecutive win over a ranked opponent. It's the first time this feat has been accomplished in program history.
All in all, last night's game featured five ties and eight lead changes. West Virginia trailed by as many as 11 points to a ranked team that was looking to put an end to a four-game losing streak.
At times in the first half, I was almost sure that Rutgers' desire to win coupled with its large early lead was going to result in a victory for the visiting squad.
Then, the second half started, and West Virginia proved me wrong. The resilience required to accomplish last night's win has its roots spread throughout the course of the season – especially in games like Notre Dame.
That resiliency also was born before the Mountaineers even played a game.
Picked to finish ninth in the preseason Big East coaches' poll, this young, wide-eyed, enthusiastic group of players is on the verge of something special.
Nine wins in conference play already surpass last year's total, and there are still four
winnable games left to be played.
When all is said and done, it's the mental capacity to fight back and not give in when things aren't going well that will ultimately determine how far this team can go.
For Carey and the rest of his team, the hope is that resiliency will ultimately lead to an NCAA tournament berth.