WVU seeks NCAA breakthrough vs. LSU
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) West Virginia coach Mike Carey would like to think the Mountaineers are due for a second-round victory in the NCAA tournament.
The fact that the Mountaineers have arguably their best team in school history should help when WVU (30-4), seeded second in the Louisville region, takes on seventh-seeded LSU (20-12) on Tuesday night.
”My philosophy is, if you can get to that point, eventually, hopefully, you win one,” Carey said before practice Monday. ”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. I said that before the year started.”
The Mountaineers have lost all seven second-round games in program history. Five of those losses have come in the previous seven seasons, starting with a loss to LSU’s 2007 Final Four team.
This season, WVU set a school record for victories, won the Big 12 regular-season title, and narrowly lost to Baylor (74-71) in the Big 12 tournament championship. It has its highest tournament seeding ever.
On Sunday, the Mountaineers built a large lead, withstood a desperate comeback attempt by No. 15 seed Albany, and then pulled away again for a comfortable 76-61 victory. That set up what at first glance looks like a favorable second-round matchup with the Lady Tigers, who entered the tournament having lost eight of 10 games.
But LSU, which has the benefit of being one of the hosts for the first two rounds, looked like a team transformed in its 98-78 victory over No. 10 seed Georgia Tech in the first round.
Senior Theresa Plaisance said the urgency that the NCAA tournament provides helped LSU, which labored through a tough Southeastern Conference slate, finally play to its true potential.
”You know, it’s pulling at my heart that one day I’m going to have to hang up my jersey,” Plaisance said. ”I’m going to do whatever I can to prolong that. I know the (other) seniors feel the same way.”
Here are five things to know about the LSU-WVU matchup:
HOME ADVANTAGE: One quirk in the women’s tournament is that some higher seeds wind up playing virtual road games against underdog opponents. That has worked to LSU’s advantage before.
The Lady Tigers are 17-3 in tournament games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, including a second-round upset over Penn State last year.
Given LSU’s season-best performance Sunday, famed Louisiana recording artist Dr. John might suggest that WVU has run up against the Lady Tigers in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the Mountaineers sound confident they can handle it.
”It is difficult coming into someone else’s arena and trying to score and get the win, but I think we’ve done that in the past,” WVU 6-foot-4 center Asya Bussie said. ”We’ve proven that we can go into other people’s gyms and come out with a win.”
TURNOVER PRONE: LSU committed 23 turnovers against Georgia Tech, giving West Virginia a sense that it can take advantage of some of the risks the Lady Tigers take with the ball.
”If we play the way we can, I think we can turn them over a lot,” WVU guard Christal Caldwell said.
FIRING AWAY: West Virginia leading scorer Bria Holmes went 6 of 19 from the field, missing 11 of 12 3-point attempts, in the first round. Her team expects her to keep shooting.
”Just because she wasn’t making them (Sunday) doesn’t mean that she can’t,” Caldwell said. ”We have that confidence in her, just to know that you’re a shooter, you miss a couple, you just continue to shoot.”
HIGH SCORING: LSU’s season high in points was 87 until the Lady Tigers exploded for their all-time NCAA tournament high on Sunday. It remains to be seen whether that was simply the product of one well-executed game plan or the start of a trend.
”It has to be the first game we’ve stuck to our game plan for the entire game,” guard Jeanne Kenney said. ”We were extremely effective in transition … and everyone was committed to running.”
NAMESAKE: LSU coach Nikki Caldwell, a former Tennessee player, wondered aloud if she might be related to the WVU guard with the same last name.
”I’ve got to find out,” the LSU coach said, grinning. ”Her skills are very good, and mine were OK back in the day, too, so I’m going to claim her.”
When the Mountaineers guard heard about those comments, she said, ”I don’t think we’re related, but I’ll just go ahead and take that as a compliment.”