Mountaineers coping with youth on women's side, too
West Virginia men's basketball coach Bob Huggins isn't the only one in Morgantown doing a lot with an extremely young team these days.
WVU women's coach Mike Carey has the Mountaineers perched near the top of the Big East once again, despite a roster that features just one senior and two juniors.
Carey has guided WVU to postseason appearances in seven of the past eight years, including five berths into the NCAA tournament. Even with the past success, the team's overall youth figured to make this year one of Carey's most trying seasons, a fact he doesn't deny.
"It's a big challenge," Carey said. "One thing with this team is we continue to work hard. If we continue to work hard, we will continue to get better. We make a lot of mistakes because we are a young team, but as long as we learn from it, we will get better.
"Even the sophomores didn't play a lot last year because we had a bunch of seniors. So it has really been a learning experience for the sophomores, let alone the freshmen."
After losing 79-60 at No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 4, the Mountaineers have reeled off back-to-back Big East wins over Villanova and Seton Hall. The team is 12-4 overall and 3-1 in the league, good enough for a share of third place.
Although this year's team has found its share of success already this season, Carey said it was the loss to the Huskies that may end up paying the biggest dividends.
"It was great," Carey said of the trip to Connecticut. "You can tell them about it, you can show them on film, but until they experience it it's a whole different world. I thought there were periods in the first half and the second half that we played really well, but our youth took over and we turned it over too much."
As the young squad tries to find its footing on the offensive end, the team's defense has given opponents fits all season. The Mountaineers yield just 48 points per game and teams are shooting only 31 percent against them, both marks ranking fifth in the nation.
"I think we emphasize [defense] and we work on it a lot in practice," Carey said. "Our players have to buy into that to get onto the floor. It's important, if you want to be a good defensive team, you've got to work at it."
Sophomore Taylor Palmer leads West Virginia in scoring, averaging 13.6 points, while junior Asya Bussie joins her in double figures at 12.9. Bussie is also one of four players averaging over six rebounds as the Mountaineers have built a plus-11.7 average rebounding advantage.
WVU has one last conference game, a trip to Providence at 2 p.m. on Saturday, before heading to Charleston Tuesday for a showdown with Marshall in the Charleston Civic Center.
"It's good, it gives an opportunity for our fans in the Charleston area to hopefully come out and see us play," Carey said. "That's always good. A lot of times it's tough to make the drive all the way to Morgantown.
"I'm sure the young players don't understand how hard Marshall is going to play. All the sudden you're playing in conference and then you're out of conference. They're a much-improved team this year. They play a lot of people and they do a lot of pressing a lot of different things. [Marshall] Coach [Royce] Chadwick has got them playing hard."
The women will get their own night in the spotlight this year as the game will be held the day before the men's game, as opposed to being held on the same night. While the separation gives the women a headlining role, Carey hopes the same number of people will turn out.
"I think it's great as long as we get attendance," Carey said. "Before, we knew in the second half of the game we'd have a great crowd because there were a lot of people there to see the men. We hope we'll get some support and get WVU and MU fans out to support two great programs."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.