7 p.m. EST
WVU Coliseum - Morgantown, WV
Just a week ago, SB Nation's West Virginia site The Smoking Musket had a post up describing why the Mountaineers women's basketball team wasn't getting the respect they deserve in the national polls.
Well, the team handled business on the court on Sunday to fix that.
With a win over Baylor in Waco on Sunday, they're now ranked #7/8 in the polls and right on pace for a #2 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament (barring something crazy like Duke winning the ACC tournament happening). And the narrative of what makes this team a potential sleeper in the hunt for a final four spot has taken hold: veteran experience (sorry, Albert).
I don't think there's been a coach in the nation this year who has offered more consistently effusive praise for his senior leader than what WVU coach Mike Carey has offered up about Asya Bussie, something that Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian highlighted in his (very good) preview of tonight's regular season finale against Kansas.
Bussie scored 22 points in that game and following it Carey was moved to remark, "Asya Bussie has been carrying us for the last two or three games."
The Notre Dame win really wasn’t any different than the run of six comeback wins in the final eight minutes of WVU games this season, the last of course being the greatest of all of them, erasing an 11-point lead on the home court where Baylor had won 35 consecutive conference games.
In fact, West Virginia held Notre Dame to its lowest point total of the season in that road upset, just as they held Baylor to its lowest point total of the season on its home court.
And again, after missing last year with a knee injury suffered the first day of practice, Bussie was the driving force behind the comeback, scoring 21 points and what had to be a hundred pounds of flesh in a physical, taut, emotional game in which WVU got more floor burns than free throws made.
Bussie, a five-year senior who has started every game since she came to WVU and a team captain, is the central figure tonight when WVU honors a distinguished group of five seniors, all of whom have played major roles in WVU’s rise to national prominence.
Taking their final walk down the carpet this evening with be Bussie, guard Christal Caldwell, guard Taylor Palmer, guard Brooke Hampton and forward Jess Harlee.
"I’d like to have Asya 10 more seasons," Carey admitted. "If I could, I’d act like she was hurt in the last game of the year and try to get another year with her." - See more at: http://www.timeswv.com/sports/x2118254122/WVU-women-ready-for-Big-12-championship#sthash.RZ5fsjdK.dpuf
...after missing last year with a knee injury suffered the first day of practice, Bussie was the driving force behind the comeback, scoring 21 points and what had to be a hundred pounds of flesh in a physical, taut, emotional game in which WVU got more floor burns than free throws made...What Bussie has done has set a tone for the team that falls in line with Carey's philosophies - defense first and unselfishness.
"I've said her freshman year Asya's one of the best defensive players I've had. It's not as far as blocking shots and lift. It's laterally and talking and communicating and being in position to box out and that. I've said that since her freshman year and she continues to do that.
"Asya loves to play. Asya loves to win. She's been our captain for three years and it's been for a reason. She's such a leader. I'd like to have 10 players like Asya Bussie, not just on the floor but off the floor. She's so mature. It's a pleasure to have her."
It's not always true that a coach can look to statistics to back up what he says about his players, but in Bussie's case there's ample individual and team evidence to justify Carey's praise.
We've already discussed her individual stats as a 2014 WNBA Draft prospect throughout the season, but her team's defensive strength could be directly related to Bussie's play in theory. Just yesterday in a post about college shot blockers, I included an old link from SB Nation's Texas site Burnt Orange Nation about "a very simple and intuitive relationship between shot blocking rate and opponent field goal percentages" in men's college basketball. If we assume the same relationship might hold in women's college basketball, Bussie's defensive ability really stands out.
According to WBB State, WVU has held opponents to the lowest 2-point field goal percentage (36.9%) in the Big XII during conference play, an impressive feat in one of the nation's most competitive conferences. With Bussie leading the team at 28.9 minutes per game and an impressive block rate of 6.1% it's not at all a stretch to say that her presence on the team is a primary reason for their defensive success, especially considering that their opponents had a 44.2% 2-point percentage last season without Bussie.
We might not have many defensive statistics to rely on - and blocks on their own are not a good measure of defensive ability - but when you put the stats together with game film and Carey's words, you have the portrait of an outstanding defensive player.
WVU coach Mike Carey breaks down the Baylor win & what makes his senior class so special (via WestVirginiaU).
Tonight's game against Kansas will certainly be an opportunity to celebrate Bussie and the rest of the senior class, but also a chance to secure the Big 12 regular season championship and make it a great ending to a career that Carey would probably extend for another decade if he could.