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Mountaineers Outwit and Outplay Red Storm in Big East Opener

You know a game's gotten physical when, at halftime, you take a few moments to tweet to the opposing team that you would appreciate it if they stopped elbowing one of your players in the face.  I wish I were making it up.

At least we got a good crowd in for the televised game, and at least people got into it at the end.  But close games are frustrating enough because of all the things you think you could have done right- it's worse when you can see them as plain as the nose on your face and dissect them as neatly as some poor fetal pig in high school bio.

I thought I saw former Red Storm guard Kristin Moore in the crowd, but I might just be going crazy.  That's never an option that should be discounted with the Game Notes of Doom.

This game meant a lot to both teams.  I don't want to be melodramatic and say that it would define the entire rest of the season, given that it was only the conference opener, but with the middle of the conference so tightly bunched together, and with the odd way the Red Storm's conference schedule happens to be set up, we needed this.  We needed it badly, to establish who we were in the pack and to set ourselves up well on what I've been referring to as the "on-ramp".  What we did instead was reveal our weaknesses in critical areas, in a game that has easy access to tape for our opponents.

Dear Coach Carey: please shut up.  No, really, please.  If you would like your team to stop being called for fouls, please teach them how not to commit fouls.  He relied very heavily on his starters and on Vanessa House as sixth woman- and even she sort of started, coming out to start the second half in place of Liz Repella.  Natalie Burton was the only other reserve to play a role even worth mentioning, as she played spot minutes behind Ali and Bussie thanks to their foul trouble.  She was good at getting into the position they needed her in, sneaking up behind the defense for an open lay-up.

I would like to like Asya Bussie.  She's only a freshman, but she plays with the poise of an upperclasswoman, and she's not afraid to bang (which has been a problem in the women's game), but right now, the freshman needs to learn when to rein in the physicality.  She got Coco Hart at least once in the face and once in the throat.  Great job getting her opponents in the air and taking advantage of her height, though.  I like that in a young player.  Liz Repella almost didn't seem to expect the sort of lanes that were opening up for her on offense- there were two straight plays where she had the ball and drove so deep that she couldn't get up a good shot.  She did better when she was hitting the little midrange and long-range jumpers.  Sarah Miles showed a lot of hustle and set up her teammates well.  Madina Ali spent most of the game in foul trouble, though she had a nice block (which I think was on a three-point shot, which is the kind of block I find most aesthetically pleasing because of the arc of the shot).

Play of the game, from a coaching standpoint: two Mountaineers were being hassled to Morgantown and back by a vicious, relentless St. John's press.  West Virginia manages to get a long pass into the frontcourt, where Natalie Burton sets a perfect pick for Vanessa House to slide behind and nail the corner jumper.  The press couldn't have been that much better- but West Virginia ran a little clinic on how to beat the press there.

Shenneika didn't get the start today, and did her best to show why she should have been in the starting five- well, at least on offense, and with some flash on defense.  She's still not recovering as quickly as she should when it comes time to hunker down and grind out 30 seconds.  Run backwards, kids.  Important life skill to learn.  Loved Eugeneia in this one, though- she really showed her strength and tenacity.  She took a few hard hits from West Virginia.  So did Coco, who got elbowed twice in the face.  At least they called the second one a foul.  She wasn't quite the same afterwards, because even though she's especially prone to making incredibly dumb plays, she made a couple of plays that were so dumb I was worried her brain wasn't working properly.  We're talking about passing the ball directly to players in opposing colors.

Paging Da'Shena Stevens.  Would Da'Shena Stevens please report to the St. John's women's basketball team sometime before Tuesday night?  She couldn't hit the broad side of a barn today, and even the extra free throw shooting she did before the game only got her 3-7.  That, coupled with her foul trouble, made her a non-factor.  I'd like to credit the WVU defense for that, but she was taking a lot of stupid shots.  She wasn't the only one, though.  Sky, while she was hot on offense early, started taking a lot of ill-considered scoop shots later in the game, as if she was trying to get the foul instead of the shot.  Coco, Eugeneia, and Nadirah all shared the same problem.  I can halfway understand why, because West Virginia was in bad, bad foul trouble, but go for the shot first and try to get the foul that way.  Kelly McManmon got the start for Shenneika, and I wish I could say that that was the worst game I'd ever seen her play, but I've seen games where she missed more shots and looked worse.  I'll just have to say that she was very out of it, didn't look ready to play defense, and was more of a liability than an asset.  I'm very surprised Joy didn't play near the end of the game.  With the stupid mistakes a lot of our players were making, having the senior captain in at the end would have made sense.  At least we were hitting the boards.

Play of the game: after the first time Coco was elbowed in the face and found herself lying on the ground in pain, play wasn't even stopped, much less for a foul.  The Red Storm were playing 4-on-5 defensively, and still got the stop and the rebound so they could stop the clock and get Coco out of the game.

I don't know that I like Mike Carey- he strikes me as Dan Hughes's evil twin, emphasis on the evil, thanks to the line-crossing physicality of his players- but he knows his stuff.  Early on, the Mountaineers were taking, and hitting, threes; when St. John's tried to close out on the perimeter, that opened up mid-range shots and driving lanes, which West Virginia took advantage of.  That was a sharp contrast to Kim Barnes Arico's uncharacteristic coaching lapses.  There was the odd minute distribution between Kelly and Shenneika, which culminated with Shenneika going on a seven-point run with a blocked shot, all of which got us within one... and Coach responding by subbing Kelly in when West Virginia called timeout.  Because nothing says "My team needs to win its conference opener" like pulling the hot hand.  I also wasn't thrilled with her handling of our posts in foul trouble, and with not having Joy in for the endgame.  Fundamental mistakes and stupid play can also be laid at the feet of the coach: if your team's not shooting well from the line, and they're not disciplined enough to take good shots, it's your responsibility to run free throw shooting drills and use your timeouts to stabilize your team.

I wasn't thrilled with the officiating, either.  Bonita Spence, I know you can count to two, given your propensity for calling travels, so being able to count up to three when players plant themselves in the lane shouldn't be that much of a stretch.  And your colleague Mr. Morris was certainly capable of counting to five, given the five-second call against us on an inbounds (which was deserved, I'm not complaining about that).  So I think a few three-second calls would have been order.  And I don't mean to harp, but we had a player get ELBOWED IN THE FACE and y'all didn't even stop play while she lay on the ground, much less get around to calling a foul until the <I>second</I> time she got elbowed in the face.  I know Coco is a bit of a flopper, and probably does have a reputation for diving, but come on.  I think the referees lost control of the game, and I'm just glad that things didn't get bad enough that there were any conflicts.

I'm disappointed and frustrated, because if all these things are obvious to a twenty-something with no coaching experience, someone who's been just watching basketball for... well, okay, thirteen years... then shouldn't they be obvious to someone who's paid to coach?  If I've been seeing the same things game after game and season after season, shouldn't someone who sees the team twice as often as I do also see them?

West Virginia Mountaineers 54, St. John's Red Storm 50