MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – What other teams in the Big 12 Conference might take for granted, West Virginia’s women’s program earned and learned.
The style of play was different from the Big East Conference, the Mountaineers’ previous home. All nine road trips were new. And even the hotel accommodations came with a learning curve.
“We stayed at some places where we’ll stay again and some where we won’t,” coach Mike Carey said Wednesday during the final stop of the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Campus Tour. “Some of the hotels were close to the arenas, some weren’t as close as we were led to believe. That’s part of what was new and what we’ll take into this season as knowledge.”
Year One in the Big 12 produced a 9-9 league record and a sixth-place finish. West Virginia was 17-14 overall and earned the program’s seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 10 seasons.
The Mountaineers lost their top post player when Asya Bussie tore her ACL on the second day of practice and then Jess Harlee, the team’s energy source and top defensive player went down in the final game of the regular season, tearing three knee ligaments.
“I was really proud of the team,” Bussie said. “We went through a lot. They adjusted well and still wound up having a good season.”
Both Bussie and Harlee have healed and are back for their senior seasons. Bussie, a 6-4 post player who averaged 12.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game during the 2011-12 season, gives West Virginia what it lacked last season – a reliable scorer and rebounder in the paint.
“I feel better than I expected,” Bussie said. “I’m just going out there and not thinking about my knee.”
“We’re very happy to have Asya back,” Carey said. “Our players have to get used to looking for her inside because she demands a double team. If we get her a lot of post touches, it should really open up our offense.”
The Mountaineers return four starters and are picked to finish third in the Big 12. Senior guards Christal Caldwell, Taylor Palmer and Brooke Hampton provide experience and production on the perimeter. Caldwell averaged 13.1 points per game while Palmer averaged 9.9. They combined to make 108 3-pointers.
“Having Asya back helps us so much,” Caldwell said. “With her in the middle, it takes so much pressure off of the guards. That was something we were missing last year. Having her back and seeing her so strong will help us a lot.”
If Bussie’s presence opens up shots on the perimeter, the Mountaineers need to improve their accuracy. West Virginia was eighth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. Carey has been emphasizing improving those percentages.
“We’re going for it this year,” said Carey, whose team opens the season against Ohio State on Nov. 8. “We’ve got a lot of leaders, a lot of experience. I’m excited but we’ve got to take it to the next step. We can’t lose games we should be winning. We understand more about the Big 12; anybody can beat you and you’ve got to be ready to play, night in, night out.”