West Virginia soaring behind young roster

| Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010

West Virginia women's coach Mike Carey knew his team would be better than the 2008-09 squad that finished 18-15.

He had no idea that just four games into the Big East schedule they'd be winners of 14 in a row and just two victories shy (with 13 to go in the regular season) of last year's season total. The 16-1 start is the best in school history, and the 14-game winning streak is their longest since winning 22 in a row in 1991-92.

Pitt, still looking for its first win in the Big East, hosts West Virginia at Petersen Events Center on Sunday.

"The girls have just bought into everything we've asked, and they play well together," Carey said. "We don't have anyone selfish on our team, and they've all just bought into the defense and the intensity and speed we want to play."

Last year was a struggle for the Mountaineers after losing three key players to season-ending injuries early in the season. After two consecutive 20-plus win seasons and second-round appearances in the NCAA Tournament, West Virginia started 1-7 in the Big East and limped into the WNIT, where they lost in the second round, with eight healthy players.

This year, the Mountaineers have no seniors and only three players who saw significant time last season — guards Liz Repella and Sarah Miles and center Natalie Burton. But they've gained a big presence in the paint in 6-foot-4 freshman center Asya Bussie and another lethal 3-point shooter in junior transfer Korinne Campbell.

Leading scorer Repella is averaging 17.2 points per game, and forward Madina Ali, who played in just two games before a season-ending injury last year and is a co-captain with Repella, is averaging 7.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Miles has adapted well to the point guard role, scoring 7.5 points per game and leading the Big East with 6.8 assists per game.

"She can penetrate and she can finish," Carey said of Miles. "A lot of people attack the rim but don't finish. She can, and you have to honor that. When she does attack it opens up shots for everybody. She distributes the ball well and she's so unselfish."

Picked to finish ninth in the Big East preseason poll, West Virginia is now ranked second in the conference behind powerhouse Connecticut. They made their debut in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Jan. 4, checking in at No. 22, and are now ranked No. 18.

In their 16 wins this season, the Mountaineers are averaging 67.7 points per game with a field goal percentage of 42.4. Opponents are averaging 47.1 points per game with a field goal percentage of 32 percent with 20.3 turnovers.

Pitt and West Virginia met in Morgantown on Jan. 5, with the Mountaineers winning, 63-59.

The Panthers (11-5, 0-3) have had the past week off since a loss to Rutgers gave three in a row and four in the past five games. The last time they started 0-3 in the Big East was 2002-03. They dropped out of the Top 25 poll on Jan. 4 after peaking at No. 15 on Dec. 7.

"The low of losing is just awful — all you want to do is get to the next game," Panthers coach Agnus Berenato said after the loss to Rutgers. "We have to regroup. Maybe the week off will be good for us. It is what it is. We have to move on. There are 13 more games in the conference, and we have to get those wins. The game that's most important for us now is West Virginia."

Game info

West Virginia (16-1, 4-0 Big East) at Pitt (11-5, 0-3)

When/where: 4 p.m. Sunday/Petersen Events Center

Radio: WBGG-AM (970) TV: ESPNU

Series record: West Virginia leads, 22-17

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