MORGANTOWN - Mike Carey had a rather sobering message for his West Virginia women's basketball team Tuesday night, one that neither the Mountaineers nor their fans probably had really considered.
Yes, this is a team that began the season 16-0. After 20 games it was 19-1. Through the first three months of the season West Virginia was a fixture not just in the Top 25, but in the Top 10.
Carey's message, though, shattered all the warm and fuzzy feelings generated by what now - in the wake of four losses in the last five games - seems a long-ago run.
"I told them that right now we've got to win three or four more games or we won't make the NCAA tournament,'' Carey said. "The girls looked at me like I was crazy, but we're [6-5] in the Big East. We're not going to make the NCAA tournament with a losing Big East record.''
OK, but the Mountaineers probably will make the NCAA tournament with a few more games like the one they played Tuesday night just before Carey delivered his state of the postseason address to his team. Yes, it was another loss, but this one came with a few glimmers of hope attached.
In this one, West Virginia led two-time defending national champion and No. 2 Connecticut for virtually the entire first half and stayed right with the Huskies for most of the second. Only a magnificent effort from three-time All-America and former national player of the year Maya Moore saved the Huskies, who won 57-51 in front of a Coliseum crowd of 5,855.
"We had a great effort,'' said senior WVU Liz Repella, whose two early 3-pointers helped spur a fast start against the Huskies. "If we had that kind of effort every night we could beat anybody in the country.''
Now, though, is the time when that effort has to come.
The Mountaineers (20-5, 6-5 Big East) are still ranked No. 17, but Tuesday's loss, as encouraging as it might have been, still leaves them right in the middle of the Big East and just one game over .500 in the league with five regular-season games to play - three of them on the road and one of the two home games a stiff test against No. 8 Notre Dame.
But even Carey, although disappointed with yet another loss, saw the bright side.
"We stayed focused on our game plan for about 30 of the 40 minutes,'' he said. "But that's more than we have been. Maybe next game we can make it 35 minutes.''