Morgantown - By David Statman
For weeks, West Virginia head coach Mike Carey has had an exact number of wins on his mind to get his team back to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.
Wednesday’s 30-point win over Kansas brought Carey’s magic number down to two, with four games left to play. And on Saturday, West Virginia will have a chance to cut it down to one, when the Mountaineers (19-7, 7-7 Big 12) take on the Oklahoma Sooners (13-12, 8-6 Big 12) at the WVU Coliseum.
But while West Virginia has regained momentum and gotten back to .500 with a pair of convincing wins, Carey isn’t comfortable in the least. The Sooners handed West Virginia a 19-point loss when these two teams met in Norman on February 3, and Carey fears that the effort his team has shown in recent weeks isn’t quite enough.
“I told them after the game, we play like we did today, we’ll be on the other end of this score on Saturday,” Carey said after the win over Kansas. “Oklahoma can shoot it, they can drive it, and they play extremely hard.”
Although Oklahoma has an unimpressive overall record – they emerged from nonconference play with a losing record, including letdown losses to Arkansas-Little Rock and South Dakota State – the Sooners have found their footing in Big 12 play and have proved to be a dangerous team.
West Virginia found that out two weeks ago. Oklahoma surrounds 6-foot-4 star center Vionise Pierre-Louis with several dangerous scorers, and their diverse attack blew the Mountaineers out of the water in Norman. While Pierre-Louis commanded attention on the interior, the Sooners shot over 40 percent from 3-point range as freshman Ana Llanusa lit the Mountaineers up for 27 points.
“They have a bunch of shooters,” Carey said. “You can’t help on their center because they have a bunch of people who can drive and shoot. They have a good team, and they’re really better than their record is.”
And not only that, the Sooners smothered West Virginia offensively. The Mountaineers shot just 32 percent from the field at the Lloyd Noble Center, with senior star Teana Muldrow struggling to one of her worst games of the season.
Muldrow found herself the focus of Oklahoma’s defensive gameplan, and shot just 1-8 from the field on her way to a season-low 5 points. Carey says that Muldrow’s own lack of commitment was complicit in her rough night, and is asking for more from his leading scorer in the rematch at the Coliseum.
“They double-teamed her,” Carey said. “Two things happened: Teana didn’t move without the ball and work to get open, and then when she did get the ball they double-teamed her. She’s got to be more active and get on the offensive boards more. When they double-team her we need to make them pay for that.”
For her part, Muldrow has come out of her rough patch in the last couple of weeks, scoring 18 against Texas Tech before putting up a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds against Kansas on Wednesday.
In addition, West Virginia has seen junior shooting guard Katrina Pardee regain her touch from the perimeter over the last few games, which could prove an offensive edge. After months of struggles, Pardee has looked sharp most recently shooting 5-7 from the field on her way to 13 points in the win over the Jayhawks.
West Virginia’s matchup with Oklahoma is set to tip off at 3 p.m. Saturday from the WVU Coliseum, and will be broadcast live on AT&T SportsNet.