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Mountaineers Prepare for Tough Road Through Tournament

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MORGANTOWN -

Heading into Selection Monday, West Virginia head coach Mike Carey had a pretty good idea what to expect.

He believed his Mountaineers would be the eight or nine seed, which he was not overly fond of because that would mean a potential second round meeting with a No. 1 seed.

He also had heard that the No. 1 seed in their bracket would be Baylor, the top team in the entire tournament. After facing Baylor a year ago in the second round, he certainly did not want to see Brittney Griner and company again.

Rather than the Lady Bears, though, Carey learned WVU would face another team from the Lone Star State – Texas.

"At least we're not in Texas this year, but we're playing Texas," Carey said Monday. "I think we've always, for a while now, had Texas involved. Either playing there or playing them."

The Mountaineers watched the selection show from inside the new basketball practice facility, where two rows of chairs had been set up across from the enormous screen that welcomes the team down the spiral staircase to their new home.

It did not take long to hear their name called, as WVU and Texas were the second pairing announced. The winner would take on the Stanford-Hampton winner, which should surely be the Cardinal.

"We'll throw in offensively what both teams do and we'll try to defend that. We'll throw in what they do defensively, presses, that type of stuff," says Carey. "It gives us an opportunity, not really talking about Stanford, but really doing some of the things they do – they don't even realize we're going against them."

Scouting is extremely important this time of year as players – and coaches – are really unaware of what to expect from the upcoming opponents. The Mountaineers have been practicing to improve their own game ever since falling to Notre Dame in the Big East semifinals, but now that they have a team to prepare for, they'll begin doing just that.

"I took the stats from the three games in the [Big East] tournament and read off the stats and told them, ‘If I told you these would have been our stats, especially offensive stats, and I told you we would have been 2-1, you would have never believed it.' The thing is, our window's so small. When we don't score, we almost have to be perfect on defense," says Carey.

In addition to learning who they'll play, the Mountaineers found out where the game will take place, and that answer pleased the players on the team. Norfolk, Va. is home to both Linda Stepney and Crystal Leary, but also much closer for the team in general and many of its fans.

"I'm excited," says junior center Asya Bussie. "We're close to here and also close to my hometown [Randallstown, Md.] … I think we'll have a lot of fans coming out and that'll be the first time since I've been here. Glad I'm not going to Texas again."

Bussie was adamant prior to the Big East Tournament that her goals focused solely on that trip to Hartford and she was not looking ahead to the NCAA. Now that it is here, though, she and the rest of her teammates must forget about the semifinal loss and look ahead to what is left to accomplish in a season that has surpassed expectations.

"I think we're all ready to go out there and kind of redeem ourselves," says junior center Ayana Dunning. "We didn't end the Big East Tournament or our time in the Big East the way we would have wanted to, so we're all ready to get out there. We've had a good three days of practice so far and we're ready to start preparing for Texas now."

Throughout the season, the Mountaineers have been faced with games in which they were the underdog, rarely expected to beat the opponent they faced. On many occasions, though, they did. Some embrace that role and use it as a chip on the collective shoulder, but Bussie believes her team has done enough to rid themselves of it altogether.

"I don't really like the underdog role because I think we're a great team and I don't like being put on that level, but I know it's great proving people wrong," she says.

Her team will have one game as the higher seed before the underdog tag will be back.

The path begins Saturday at 11:10 a.m. in Norfolk with the Longhorns.

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