Mountaineers Begin NCAA Tournament with Plenty to Prove - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Mountaineers Begin NCAA Tournament with Plenty to Prove

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Baton Rouge, La. -

All these months later, Mike Carey is still counting on the exact same factors that made him confident in his Mountaineers before the season even began.

Leadership and depth.

Those two qualities are what gave West Virginia's women's basketball team reason for optimism at the onset of the season and those same qualities drove the Mountaineers through 33 games all the way to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

On Saturday, three of the five WVU seniors stepped out of the team locker room to meet with the media and speak about the start of the tournament. As a No. 2 seed facing No. 15 Albany, the Mountaineers were asked how they make sure they stay level-headed and don't look past the first round match-up.

"Everybody is going to play their best basketball right now," said WVU guard Taylor Palmer. "It doesn't really matter what you did the rest of the season. This is important.  It's a one‑and‑done now, so everybody wants to be a national champion, so they're going to go and play like it."

See, that's the thing about this group. They understand these things. The success these seniors have had on the way to a 29-4 hasn't gone to their heads. If anything, it has provided more motivation knowing that for the first time since they arrived in Morgantown, a deep run in the NCAA Tournament is not only a possibility, but it is also the expectation.

"Experience plays a big role," said Christal Caldwell. "You've been in certain situations before, so you kind of know what to expect. I think that's helped us a lot this year and it's going to help us in the tournament as well."

The experience turns to leadership, but leadership with no one to follow won't get these seniors far. They have made such an impact because those who are younger look up to them and recognize that there is something to be learned.

Combine the leadership with an audience willing to take the lessons and grow into better players – now that's how you build a quality program.

"The younger players, they listen, they're attentive and they understand what we really want as a team," said Palmer. "It's more important for the seniors just because it's our last go around, but the whole team feels the same way."

Some of the younger players who will be left behind to continue this season's success have a hard time considering a team without Caldwell, Palmer, Asya Bussie, Jess Harlee and Brooke Hampton. Averee Fields, a junior forward, says just thinking about their departure makes her sad. But it's too early to feel those emotions with so much left to accomplish this season.

Instead, she pays attention to what they tell her and she takes advantage of the opportunity to essentially have five extra coaches out on the court and on the bench with her during each game.

"They've had so much experience and they've gone through it," said Fields. "They've dealt with Coach Carey for all these years and they just know what to say in any situation, so it's good to come to them for advice. It's definitely inspirational. It makes you want to play hard for them."

Palmer is an example of the depth that has made this team so successful. A senior and a former starter, she could have taken exception to the role Carey asked her to fill this season coming off of the bench. Instead, she embraced it and worked hard to earn the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year award.

With 10 players who can rotate and bring different skills and match-ups to the court, the Mountaineers are built for tournament play.

"There are other teams that just play their starters and even in the regular season, they're probably more burnt out than us. I think that our conditioning is helping us, too. We play a solid 10 people, so that's pretty good."  

Sunday will be the start of what Carey hopes can be a long stay in the NCAA Tournament, but he must first guide his squad past Albany, the team that won the America East Conference championship.

It would be difficult to somehow overlook a player like sophomore Shereesha Richards, a 6-1 forward who averages more than 20 points per game for the Great Danes.

"She's very athletic, runs the floor extremely well, posts," Carey said of Richards. "They're always looking to lob to her and the other post players. They do a good job. I think they all know their roles and they know where the ball needs to go and that type of stuff."

These Mountaineers don't need a quality opponent to get them excited and ready for what they have left to accomplish. They find all of the motivation they need in their own locker room.

"We still have a lot to prove," said Carey. "We haven't done anything in the NCAAs, and that's been under me.  We've got a lot to prove.  Our young ladies, they've played extremely well and hard and the whole thing, but we have some goals going forward here."

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