NCAA Women’s tournament: WVU gets set for showdown with LSU
BATON ROUGE, La. — The West Virginia women’s basketball team has achieved a long line of benchmarks this season, including a school-record 30 wins and the highest regular-season ranking in school history.
Adding a postseason breakthrough to the list will require winning a marquee matchup on the opponent’s home floor.
As the No. 2 seed in the Louisville Region of the NCAA tournament, the Mountaineers (30-4) face No. 7 seed LSU (20-12) in a 9:30 p.m. tip-off Tuesday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” WVU coach Mike Carey said. “You go to the NCAA tournament, you’re going to play tough games, and you’re not going to play them at your home arena. If you want to move on to the next level, you have to play against good teams, and sometimes you have to play them on their home floor.”
WVU is seeking only its second Sweet 16 berth all-time and the first of Carey’s 13-year tenure.
The Mountaineers are in the NCAA tournament for the eighth time in 11 years and have advanced to the second round for the sixth time in eight. Their only previous trip to the Sweet 16 came in 1992, before the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
“My philosophy is if you can get to that point, eventually you hopefully win one,” Carey said. “If you keep knocking on the door, hopefully it’s going to open up for you a little bit. Our teams have done a great job to get to this point, and we need to take the next step.”
The prospect of matching up with LSU in the second round was a point of contention for the Mountaineers when the NCAA pairings were announced over a week ago.
As a No. 2 seed, Carey and his team believed they deserved more respect from the Selection Committee, which sent them to Baton Rouge despite WVU’s winning a share of the Big 12 regular-season championship and reaching as high as No. 5 in the national rankings.
The Mountaineers would have needed No. 10 seed Georgia Tech to beat LSU in Sunday’s opening round for WVU to avoid facing an NCAA tournament foe on its home floor with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
There was no such luck, as the Lady Tigers ripped the Yellow Jackets 98-78 to advance.
“We don’t get the respect that we should get, and we just have to go out there and prove it every game,” WVU center Asya Bussie said. “I think this whole season we have had to prove people wrong and just show that we are a good team, that we deserve to be a 2 seed.”
WVU has not hosted a game in the tournament since its Sweet 16-clinching victory in 1992, and the Mountaineers have seen their season end on the home court of an NCAA opponent two of the last three years.
Meanwhile, LSU is hosting NCAA tournament early round action for the fourth time in six years.
Last season, the Lady Tigers were seeded sixth when they beat No. 3 seed Penn State in Baton Rouge to reach the Sweet 16.
“I think it’s great being a 2 seed, but it is difficult coming into someone else’s arena and trying to score and get the win,” Bussie said. “But I think we’ve done that in the past. We’ve proven that we can go into other people’s gyms and come out with a win.”
The Mountaineers are 17-2 away from home, including their 76-61 victory over No. 15 seed Albany in Sunday’s first round.
But Carey said after the opening win that WVU must play better Tuesday to move on.
The Mountaineers let much of a 17-point halftime lead slip away as Albany pulled within 56-51 with seven minutes to go. Senior guard Christal Caldwel’s career-high 26 points helped offset leading scorer Bria Holmes’ off night.
Holmes still managed 20 points, but went 1-of-12 from 3-point range and 6-of-19 from the field.
Nonetheless, Caldwell said Holmes will remain the go-to player.
“Because we’ve seen her make those shots all year long,” she said. “Just because she wasn’t making them yesterday doesn’t mean that she can’t. We have that confidence. We know she’s a great player, so continue to give her the ball and she’ll make some.”
Senior forward Theresa Plaisance, the Southeastern Conference’s top scorer as a junior, leads LSU with 15.8 points per game as well as 7.8 rebounds. Senior guard Jeanne Kenney adds 11.6 points and 3.6 assists.
In the victory Sunday, sophomore guard Danielle Ballard went for 24 points and 17 rebounds, leading five players in double figures as LSU notched a program high for most points in a postseason game.
The Lady Tigers hope they are back on track now after losing eight of their final 10 games entering the NCAA tournament.
“Our game plan was to be aggressive, and we did a very, very good job of it,” Kenney said. “It’s been difficult for the season in its entirety to put together 40 minutes, but I really do think we played a collective game yesterday, and just pushing the tempo. We were extremely effective in transition, in our transition offense, and everyone was committed to running.”
LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said she was “hopeful” her team would have SEC All-Freshman honoree Raigyne Moncrief, who left the Georgia Tech game with a knee injury.