With 17 years in as head coach for West Virginia women’s basketball, Mike Carey knows how to get his team’s attention.
Carey has never hesitated when it comes to making his point – he has been known to chew out the male players who help out during drills, even making one guy run several “penalty” minutes on the treadmill for going off-script at practice. His actual players know, respect and appreciate what Carey is trying to accomplish.
That’s why he was not going to force the issue when the Mountaineers (25-11) were left out of the NCAA field of 64, and the team had to decide if they’d play in this year's Postseason WNIT. His most experienced players got to make the call, and after voting yes, WVU is making a run to the finish, preparing for tonight’s WNIT semifinal at home against Virginia Tech (22-13).
“Our seniors stepped up and said, whether we’re in the NCAA or WNIT, we’re going to practice hard and play hard, and we’re trying to win. That’s all I needed to hear,” said Carey, whose team reached the final of the 2015 WNIT, winning two overtime games along the way and falling just two points short against UCLA. “After the first game (of 2018), they really bought in and seem very focused right now.
“The WNIT gives you the opportunity for more practices for your younger players – that’s good, and it gives you another goal. Today’s athletes need goals … and to have a chance to win a championship, I don’t know how any athlete can’t get up and ready to go.”
West Virginia started the season 13-0 and was ranked in the top 10 nationally, but injuries slowly stripped away any margin of error. The team would also get into foul trouble, and that kept the offense muzzled and lucky to score 60 points on many occasions. In the fiercely competitive Big 12, that’s just not enough production.
It’s been a true revival in the WNIT for WVU, however, which has four double-digit wins so far and got a monster 33-point, seven-rebound effort from senior Teana Muldrow in a 76-62 quarterfinal victory against St. John’s.
“We’ve been undermanned the whole year … we’ve stayed out of foul trouble in the tournament, and these extra days have helped,” Carey said. “The bench players got in the first couple games, and that’s helped their confidence. That production is very important when you’re playing so many games in a tournament like this.”
“At first it was hard to accept being (in the WNIT), but I was grateful to have the opportunity to keep playing basketball. There are good teams in the WNIT, so I knew we had to be focused and ready to play,” said Muldrow, a likely pick in the 2018 WNBA draft who is averaging 18.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. “We were a little inconsistent this year, sometimes just not playing our style. We’re very aggressive with the ball, usually, into the lane, and our defense creates our offense. In the WNIT, our intensity has been at an all-time high, also in practice. We just want to win.”
Muldrow redshirted her freshman year, after talking it over with Carey and seeing a fleet of seniors expected to take all the playing time – sure enough, West Virginia won 30 games that year and earned the Big 12 regular season title. She has evolved into a mutli-category force and will leave Morgantown in the top five all-time in rebounding, blocked shots, double-doubles and scoring (she’s at 1,799 points now).
“That year was very hard for me, especially mentally. Everyone is always the best player in their area coming out of high school, so to come here and then have to step back a little bit was a rough time for me,” said Muldrow, who was named Tuesday as a D-I All-American honorable mention choice. “But it was also the best year, and the best decision I ever made for my career. It helped me get stronger mentally and physically, stronger and faster … closer to what coach Carey expects out of his players. I’m thankful that I made that decision.”
“She’s very consistent and will always give you everything she has. As a coach, all you can do is ask a player to play as hard as they can when they step on the floor," Carey added. "Teana does exactly that – she can step out and hit a 3, she can get to the line, and she can post you up on the block. She’s also a good passer, and she opens it up for a lot of people with her skill set.”
West Virginia will also lean on three players who have started every game – Naomi Davenport (16.2 points, 7.2 rebounds), Katrina Pardee (12.4 points, 39.5 percent shooting from 3-point range) and Chania Ray (9.9 points, team-high 194 assists).
Virginia Tech (which lost to West Virginia 79-61 back in November 2017) will counter with Taylor Emery (18.3 points, 39.1 percent from 3-point range) and Regan Magarity (13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds).