Mountaineers Hope for Return to Full Health - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Mountaineers Hope for Return to Full Health

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MORGANTOWN -

West Virginia women's basketball was one big opportunity for a Charles Dickens cliché.

You know, the whole tale of two halves line that inevitably makes its way into a few game recaps after one or both teams play decidedly different brands of basketball over the course of 40 minutes.

For the Mountaineers (17-14, 9-9), it was a trend that began in the non-conference slate and followed them all the way up through their final game of the postseason.

In 14 losses, WVU led at the half seven times. But in those seven games, head coach Mike Carey brought a different team out of the locker room. Or the opposition brought a different team or perhaps it was both.

Whatever the reason, the Mountaineers were outscored by a combined total of 90 points in the second halves of those seven losses when they held 55 points worth of a lead after 20 minutes.

On only three occasions all season did WVU lose a game in which it tied or bested the opponent in the second half and overtime. In those three games, though, the Mountaineers trailed by a combined 31 points.

"The ups and downs, I think the game just showed exactly how we were this whole season," said junior guard Taylor Palmer after WVU blew a 7-point lead against Delaware in the NCAA Tournament. "We had stretches where we were good, which was the first half, and then the second half, we just got kind of lazy and we went to fouling again and they got a lot of shots from the free throw line."

Getting lazy and getting exhausted may be confused in Palmer's explanation.

West Virginia lost one of its biggest weapons before the season even began when would-be senior center Asya Bussie came down with a knee injury during the team's first practice.

In January, sophomore guard Akilah Bethel fell victim to her own knee injury and in the regular season finale, junior forward Jess Harlee hit the floor with one as well.

Down go last season's first, sixth- and eighth-leading scorers and two of the top four rebounders (not to mention freshman Lanay Montgomery who had a knee injury in high school that kept her out this year) and the rest of the Mountaineers are asked to pick up the slack.

"I'm proud of everyone who was able to play because everyone stepped up, but at the same time, the players who were injured are a big part of the team," said Palmer. "With them playing, who knows what could have happened. It was important, but I'm proud of the team."

Those players who stepped up in Bussie's absence right from the start of the season included sophomore forwards Averee Fields and Crystal Leary, each of whom was asked to play a bigger position than they were recruited to take on.

Fields likely did not anticipate battling in the post with the likes of Baylor's Brittney Griner and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, but she did and the experience at a new position could aid the Mountaineers tremendously as they lose their only senior, center Ayana Dunning.

"I know I had to be bigger and I had to play bigger and guard bigger people," said Fields. "I've grown a lot this year and I've gotten a lot tougher, so I think next year will be great."

Dunning, who will not be around to see exactly what next year brings as her alma mater gets one year older and brings back plenty of experience to the court, is proud of Fields for the way she handled being thrown into the fire this past season.

"Because of our situation with all the injuries, it kind of forced her to grow, whether she was ready to grow up or not. But she did," said Dunning. "I think she handled it very well going up against some of the best players in the country night in and night out. I think she was able to hold her ground and do the things that she needed to for us."

The team as a whole will need to use this year as a learning experience and not dwell on the poor performances, but instead rejoice knowing the opportunity that lies ahead with so much production returning at all positions.

With a healthy Mountaineer squad taking the court, the 2013-14 version could look decidedly different than the one that just wrapped up its season in Delaware.

"I think everybody did a great job as a committee of trying to fill that void that we lost in those three players," said Dunning. "I think next year, they sky's the limit."

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