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WVU women's basketball: Mountaineers to visit Griner, Baylor

By Nick Arthur

MORGANTOWN -- The West Virginia women's basketball team has made a habit of playing the top teams in the country.

During its 17 seasons in the Big East Conference, the Mountaineers would consistently get a crack at powerhouse programs such as Connecticut and Notre Dame.

Saturday night, West Virginia (11-5, 3-2 Big 12) will continue the trend of playing top-tier teams, making the 1,300-mile trip to Waco, Texas to take on top-ranked Baylor (15-1, 5-0) in the first matchup between the two schools as Big 12 Conference members.

"It's exciting," West Virginia senior center Ayana Dunning said. "Playing in the Big 12, we're excited to be able to go out and play some of the best competition in the country night in and night out. And to be able to play the No. 1 team in the country, I think everyone is up for it. Everyone is excited."

The Bears, whose only loss this season was a four-point defeat at the hands of No. 4 Stanford, comes into the game having not lost a conference game since February 2011.

In fact, the loss to The Cardinal this season is Baylor's only defeat in its last 56 games, after going 40-0 last season and claiming the National Championship.

The Bears feature the face of women's college basketball in 6-foot-8 senior center Brittney Griner.

Dunning, listed at 6-3, is the tallest member of the Mountaineers and is aware of the high level of play Griner presents.

However, her game plan is simple for the matchup with No. 1.

"I'm just going to go out there and play," she said. "We'll work on the scout and the things we need to do. For our defensive scheme, I know it's going to have to be a team effort. But we're getting ready for that.

"This is a game that, hopefully, we'll be able to match their intensity and just go out there and play."

The Mountaineers recorded their most impressive win in program history a season ago, knocking off then-No. 2 Notre Dame on the road.

Current members of the West Virginia team have faced Baylor and their lanky center before - a 2011 NCAA Tournament game in Waco.

WVU Coach Mike Carey's team fought hard against the top-seeded Bears in that matchup, trailing by only 11 points at the half.

But, Griner was able to record 30 points and eight blocks against the undersized Dunning and crew.

"We play up and down. This is high level competition, so I definitely think we'll play to our potential," West Virginia sophomore guard Akilah Bethel said.

"In previous years, we've always played up to the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, so I definitely think we'll be ready."

Bethel provided the Mountaineers with a spark off the bench in their last game - a 58-50 home victory over TCU.

The Mountaineers have now won three consecutive games in conference play, with their only two losses coming by a combined four points.

A win over Baylor would be a major step forward for West Virginia, and it's looking forward to the opportunity presented.

"I'm excited. I honestly am," junior guard Taylor Palmer said. "I think the whole team is excited, too. (We need to) just get mentally prepared. It's a big game."


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