The West Virginia University women’s basketball team will hit the road for the first time this season tonight, venturing down south to Starkville, Miss., to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Women’s Preseason National Invitation Tournament.
The Mountaineers go into tonight’s game coming off wins over both Eastern Kentucky and Seton Hall. With just nine players active, head coach Mike Carey has been forced to play his veteran core – junior guard Bria Holmes, senior point guard Linda Stepney and senior forward Averee Fields – heavy minutes, and Carey was furious when he learned his team would have to travel on top of that workload.
“Very disappointed that now we have to go to Mississippi State on Thursday,” Carey said. “It’s unbelievable when you’re nationally ranked, No. 17 in the country and Mississippi State played a day before us. Extra rest and we’re the ones traveling.”
In an 89-87 shootout win over Seton Hall Monday, Holmes played 40 minutes, Fields 38 minutes and Stepney 34 minutes. Now the Mountaineers will have to get up and go on the road to play a Mississippi State team that has topped 90 points in both of its WNIT wins.
For Bria Holmes, whose career-high 36 points drove the Mountaineers to victory Monday night, it’s just a matter of getting as much rest as possible.
“We just have to rest our bodies while we can,” Holmes said after the game. “Tomorrow we have the day off, so that’s just a day for us to rest our legs and our bodies, because we know this year us three are going to have to play a lot of minutes. We just have to rest when we can and be focused and ready to play every game.”
The Bulldogs blew out Mercer 97-66 in their first round game, and then outlasted Arkansas State 93-83 in the quarterfinals Sunday. Third-year head coach Vic Schaefer guided his team to a 23-13 record last season, and he has gotten Mississippi State off to a hot start offensively.
So far, the Bulldogs have been led by a pair of high-scoring freshmen. Freshman guard Morgan William has come off the bench to average 24 points and five assists in her first two collegiate games, shooting a perfect 100 percent from 3-point range, while freshman forward Victoria Vivians is averaging 17.5 points.
The two teams have never before met in competition. Should the Mountaineers win in Starkville, they will advance to the Preseason WNIT finals for the first time to face the winner of the Albany-Western Kentucky game on Sunday. The Mountaineers have reached the Preseason WNIT semifinals once before in 2009, but lost to the eventual champion Ohio State Buckeyes.