MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Late Friday afternoon, Mike Carey and his West Virginia women's basketball team hopped on a bus and headed for Newark, Del., and today's first-round game in the NCAA tournament.
Forgive the Mountaineers if they've forgotten what bus trips are like. It's only their fourth of the season.
"The NCAA says this is a bus trip [anything within 300 miles of campus; this one is 275], but the [WVU] administration said if we wanted to fly they'd fly us,'' Carey said before departing. "But I'm happier to bus. We'll watch a couple of movies. We'll have some fun.
"The only time I don't like to bus is if you lose. And then that [return trip] is the longest bus ride in America.''
Well, here's the thing about West Virginia and first-round games in the NCAA tournament: The Mountaineer women don't often lose. In fact, of the eight prior NCAAs in which they've played, they are 7-1 in their openers.
Then again, WVU is also 0-7 in those second-round games, so maybe busing back after a loss might still be in the cards.
That's down the road, though. First up for WVU is that first-round game today. It's an interesting one for a couple of reasons.
First, it's against Delaware. On the Blue Hens' home floor. That would be 5,000-seat Bob Carpenter Arena, which doesn't exactly bring to mind traditional Division I NCAA tournament sites.
This isn't the men's tournament, though, where mega-arenas are required and home teams prohibited from playing there. It's the women's tournament, which despite phenomenal growth over the years still must cater to economic realities.
If you bid for it - and the NCAA accepts the bid - they will come.
"People ask me why we haven't done that, but I'm kind of scared of that,'' Carey said. "If we put in a bid and we don't make it, I'm probably going to be in a little bit of trouble. We'd lose a lot of money. You'd better be pretty sure you're going to get in if you're going to put a bid in.''
Of course, the fact that West Virginia managed to get in this year was a bit of a surprise - not based on preseason expectations, but on regular-season realities. The Mountaineers were highly regarded in the preseason, ranked in the Top 25 and with almost every crucial piece returning from a 24-win team.
But in the second practice of the season, last year's leading scorer, Asya Bussie, blew out her knee. On Jan. 19, reserve Akilah Bethel did the same thing, and then in the final regular-season game another member of the rotation, Jess Harlee, went down with her knee injury.
Somehow, though, through the rigors of all that travel to Big 12 outposts and the injuries and everything else, West Virginia managed to fashion a 17-13 record, go 9-9 in conference play and survive a current three-game losing streak to make it into the NCAA field for the fourth straight season and the sixth time in the last 10.
What that got them was a No. 11 seed and today's first-round game against No. 6 seed Delaware. Which brings up the second interesting thing about today's game. Her name is Elena Delle Donne.
If you've never heard of Delle Donne, well, you're excused. Some people won't pay attention to women's basketball no matter what.
But Delle Donne is famous as much for her back story as for the fact that at 25.3 points per game she is the second-leading scorer in Division I. Four years ago she was the No. 1 recruit in the country and a Geno Auriemma prize catch at Connecticut.
But the 6-foot-5 guard - yes, a 6-5 women's guard - spent about 10 seconds on the UConn campus, got homesick and left. She returned home to Wilmington, Del., in part because she couldn't leave her older sister, Lizzie, who is deaf and blind, and in part because she was just homesick and burned out on big-time basketball.
So what did she do back home? She enrolled at Delaware and walked onto the volleyball team. A year later she gave up volleyball and joined the basketball team.
And thus a basketball powerhouse was born. The Blue Dons are 30-3 this season and ranked No. 15.