WVU proved a lot in loss
Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 9, 2011 00:02
I went to the WVU Coliseum Tuesday night expecting the West Virginia women's basketball team to falter again.
I, like many others, saw all that was against the Mountaineers.
Losers of three of the last four games, West Virginia was taking a nosedive in the Big East Conference and into mediocrity. Not only that, but the Mountaineers were facing the best team in college basketball.
Despite all of that, No. 17 West Virginia came to play.
And they played right with the more-talented, more-storied, more-everything Huskies.
In doing so, the Mountaineers proved to be a program with the potential to challenge No. 2 UConn in the Big East Conference in the future.
WVU would end up losing 57-51 to the Huskies, but it wasn't all for naught.
If there was ever a moral victory coming from a loss, this was it.
WVU head coach Mike Carey didn't think so.
"That's not good enough. We lost," he said. "A lot of people think, ‘oh my God, you lost by just six to Connecticut'. We lost.
"We expected to win this game, and we didn't. I'm upset."
But WVU did things it wasn't able to do in losses earlier this season. The Mountaineers got solid play from their post players, didn't turn the ball as significantly as they did in their last four games and kept their cool in big moments.
West Virginia even kept up with Connecticut despite some questionable calls from the referees.
That's only an excuse, though, and WVU was too good on Tuesday night to let an excuse get in their way.
Despite the striped shirts and talented UConn roster, the Mountaineers kept their composure – something they couldn't do against Marquette, Georgetown, DePaul or Pittsburgh in the team's only losses this season.
WVU played within itself for the first time in a long time – and it showed, in the way the team kept up with
Connecticut – a team the Mountaineers' have only beaten once in program history.
This game will go down as a loss, but it should be treated as the biggest learning experience and motivation tool in program history.
"Ever since Mike got into the league, this has become a difficult place to play because of the way they play. They're tough, they guard you, they make every pass difficult, they make every cut difficult, they make every shot difficult," said UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. "Their effort tonight was great, but they just didn't make enough shots … Both teams learned a lot; just one, unfortunately, had to lose to learn."
In the end, Connecticut was just too much for the Mountaineers. When it came down to a tough spot in the second half with West Virginia down by no more than nine points throughout, senior forward Maya Moore carried the Huskies to victory.
The Mountaineers had no way to stop her. Double teams wouldn't do it and forcing her to take jump shots wouldn't either. It's obvious she's the best player in the country for that reason.
She finished with 27 points, leading the Huskies. No other player had more than 10.
"A couple plays here and there allowed us to come out with the win," Auriemma said. "This could very easily have been a West Virginia win. Maya just happened to make a couple of plays, and that was the difference.
"Without somebody like that, a night like tonight probably turns into a loss."
That game, despite a disappointing outcome in the end, proved the Mountaineers still have some fight.
It proved that it could still be the team that won 16-straight games to start the season.
If that continues, WVU could be in store for its first Final Four.
Carey needs to see more, though, because he's not convinced his team is a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament.
"We can't be playing around anymore," said senior guard Liz Repella, who gave an emotional speech to her team at midcourt
following the game. "That effort we had tonight, we have
to have that every single night … Us seniors don't want to
play in the NIT. Our goal coming into this season was winning a national championship. Going into the NIT is not a choice for us. It's unacceptable."
I wouldn't worry, though. This team found itself Tuesday night.
They proved me – and bunch of others – wrong, even in a loss.