MORGANTOWN -- For the fourth time since 2004, West Virginia's women's basketball team is facing the prospect of playing early in the NCAA Tournament on the opponent's home floor.
The Mountaineers were seeded No. 9 in the Dallas region Monday and will play No. 22 Houston in the first round at 5 p.m. Sunday the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. Top-seeded Baylor calls that building home and figures to be waiting the winner in the second round. The host Bears and All-American Brittney Griner play No. 16 seed Prairie View.
"I expected to be an 8 or a 9 seed," said Coach Mike Carey, whose team was ranked as high as a program-best No. 6 this season. "There is no one to blame but ourselves. We have to go on their home court. If we can get by Houston, a team from Texas, then we will turn around and play Baylor."
In 2004, the Mountaineers were a No. 11 seed and lost in the first round at No. 6 seed Ohio State. In 2008, WVU was a No. 5 seed, but won at No. 12 seed New Mexico. Last year WVU was a No. 3 seed and won in the first round and figured to play host Texas in the second round, but the Longhorns were upset by No. 11 seed San Diego State in the first round. The Aztecs beat the Mountaineers in the second round.
This is WVU's seventh NCAA Tournament appearance and Carey's fourth in the last five years. It's also the third time the Mountaineers (23-9) have started in Texas.
The Mountaineers were once 16-0 and No. 6 in the country, but lost at Marquette Jan. 11. WVU responded with three consecutive wins, but then went 3-7 to end the regular season and 1-1 in the Big East Tournament. The tournament loss came to St. John's, 59-51, five days after defeating the Red Storm, 69-49.
"We gave them a couple days off and then we practiced three days and gave them two days off and came back (Monday)," Carey said. "We can get prepared now that we know who we are playing and where we are going.
"We went back to fundamentals this week. Teams used to fear us because of our defense and would change up their offense for us. Here of late, they don't do that. We have start playing again and get in the passing lanes and make things happen."
Houston is 26-5 and won the Conference USA regular-season title. The Cougars had a 17-game winning streak - 16-0 in the conference and a win in the conference tournament quarterfinals - but lost to Tulane in the conference tournament semifinals.
First-year Coach Todd Buchanan was named the league's coach of the year and Courtney Taylor was named the player of the year. She averages 15.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Three teammates average at least 10 points per game.
"We have to prepare for everyday like it is our last," said guard Liz Repella, one of WVU's five seniors. "It is always in the back of your mind that there is always next year, but this time there is no next year. This is our last go-around."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.