WVU women looking to get physical
NORFOLK, Va. - Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer of Stanford believes a finesse game is the best way to showcase women's basketball, and the athleticism of the players will attract more fans.
West Virginia is unlikely to pay much attention to that philosophy when the teams meet tonight in the second round of the women's NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers (24-9) want to be very physical.
"All year we've been playing really aggressive and I feel like if we do that tomorrow, we can get them out of their sets and just kind of mess up their flow, and that's just something that we're focusing on,'' Mountaineers 6-foot-4 center Asya Bussie said, terming the aggressive approach "West Virginia defense.''
That style might be West Virginia's best chance of slowing down the wildly athletic Ogwumike sisters, Nnemkadi and Chiney, and the rest of top-seeded Stanford's offense. But it's unlikely to please VanDerveer.
Stanford (32-1) has won a school-record 29 straight games and is seeking its fifth consecutive trip to the Final Four. VanDerveer noted that West Virginia has had players foul out 13 times, and her team has had none.
Calling herself a devotee of the John Wooden philosophy that basketball is not meant to be played like football or rugby, she said there's nothing to be gained having the best players sitting out in foul trouble.
"I really think it's a disservice to the women's game because we're fighting so hard for fan support and television and everything else, where people want to see basketball and not a wrestling match,'' VanDerveer said.
Of course, she's also got some of the best finesse players in the game. Nnemkadi Ogwumike averages 22 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and younger sister Chiney is at 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds.
Mountaineers coach Mike Carey said his team has to find a way to slow them down.
"I think we have to move the ball, we have to pound it inside, we have to make their players play defense and make it, I don't want to say 'an ugly game,' but make it physical as much as the referees will let us and try to bang and get on the floor and dive on loose balls, take some charges,'' he said. "We need to make it that type of a game.''
Nnemkadi Ogwumike said it's nothing the Cardinal haven't seen before.
"I think finesse ... a lot of times it's a lot more fun to watch and sometimes it's a lot more fun to play, obviously, because you don't want to be getting beat up all the time,'' she said. "But we always step up to the challenge and we understand that West Virginia is physical and up in your grill when it comes to defense.''
That doesn't mean the Mountaineers will get to set the tempo, though.
"We can be physical and keep the game fast and I think that's kind of what our style is, and I think that's where the finesse component of Stanford basketball comes into play,'' she said.
Carey got to see it in person when the Cardinal beat Hampton 73-51 in the first round, a game in which the older Ogwumike led the fast break several times and scored 22 of her 28 points by halftime.
"I like our defense against their halfcourt offense. I don't like our defense if they're running and getting easy shots in transition or if we're turning it over and they're getting the fast-break points,'' he said.
Playing their final season in the Big East before moving to the Big 12, West Virginia twice played teams at Stanford's level this season. It lost to Connecticut and won at Notre Dame.
The latter game, Carey said, gives his team hope that today could be a special night.
"I can go back a month ago when nobody believed we could beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame, either, in front of a capacity crowd. Nobody gave us a chance but the people in the locker room,'' he said.
"Nobody's picking us to win this game,'' he continued, "but us.''