WVU could be in danger of missing NCAA Tourney
Published: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 23:02
Entering this season, the West Virginia women's basketball team had the makeup of a team destined for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Following a late-season slump, the Mountaineers find themselves fighting to secure an at-large bid.
WVU entered the season ranked as high as No. 6, but after starting the season 19-1, the Mountaineers have hit a rough patch going 2-6 since.
Following West Virginia's 72-60 loss to No. 8 Notre Dame Tuesday night at the WVU Coliseum, head coach Mike Carey was brutally honest with his team.
"I told them we can't have a losing record in the Big East (Conference)," he said. "You have to at least be .500 in the Big East."
The rough stretch has dropped West Virginia (21-7, 7-7) to 10th place in the Big East and struggling to earn a bye in the conference tournament despite being selected to finish second in the preseason.
"Time is definitely running out," said WVU point guard Sarah Miles. "These last two games are must-haves. We can't lose. We refuse to lose.
"There's no way we can lose and expect to get to the NCAAs. We play to win a national championship, not to go to the WNIT. I refuse to go to the WNIT my senior year."
While West Virginia's RPI of 23 and strength of schedule of 49 would look attractive to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, it is 0-6 against teams with a top-35 RPI.
The Mountaineers will have at least three more opportunities to pick up valuable wins this season, though. The team plays at Rutgers Saturday, hosts St. John's Feb. 28 and will have at least one game in the Big East Tournament.
"We are playing a Rutgers game that we beat twice last year, and they have a lot of the same players and we have every player," Carey said. "So, we have to go up there and play."
A win at Rutgers would likely secure an NCAA Tournament berth for the Mountaineers. But, if they are unable to bring home a victory, it would become crucial to defeat St. John's at home next week as part of ESPN's Big Monday.
St. John's (19-8, 8-6), which was projected to finish fifth in the Big East, has struggled similarly to West Virginia.
That game will also be the last home contest for five WVU seniors.
"Hopefully that will motivate them," Carey said.
The team has agreed it will be unnacceptable to miss the NCAA Tournament.
"We have five seniors on this team," said senior forward Madina Ali, "and there's no way we want it to end by going and playing in the WNIT."
With Tuesday night's loss to Notre Dame, the Mountaineers were eliminated from receiving a two-round bye in the Big East Tournament.
Two victories to end the regular season by WVU would guarantee the Mountaineers a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
West Virginia is still in the running for a 5-8 seed and a first-round bye. If West Virginia finishes the regular season with two wins, it will most likely be the No. 8 seed.
"We have two games left, and we have to make the best of it," Ali said.