After an inconsistent start to the regular season, the women have picked up their game as of late. Mike Carey's club had won four straight games heading into Wednesday's non-conference matchup with Marshall, and extended their winning streak to five with a decisive 76-54 victory over the Thundering Herd. The Mountaineers led for virtually the entire game, and didn't let up in the second half en route to their 13th victory of the season.
"I thought we played hard," Carey said of his team. "I thought that we got sloppy at times, especially in the second half. I thought that we got sloppy off of the ball, and got some people in foul trouble. We haven’t been playing a lot of players, just six to seven people. Tonight, we went deeper down the bench because of foul trouble."
While the win is certainly nice, it gives West Virginia little more than statewide bragging rights. Conference play picks up again on Saturday, when the Mountaineers travel to Georgetown. The Hoyas currently sit at the bottom of the Big East standings with a 1-6 record in conference play, and boast an 11-9 record overall.
Though they may not be as talented as previous opponents UConn, Tennessee, and LSU, Carey knows that his girls must be ready for the Big East road tilt. As it heads out on the road, the team is playing with as much confidence as it has all season. In fact, the current level of confidence reminds Carey of last spring's run to the Big East tournament finals.
"I think so, I really do," he said when asked if the confidence level of his team now is similar to that week in Hartford. "I think it’s as high as it was during the Big East tournament last year. I think that we had a lot of confidence in the Big East tournament, and right now we’re playing with a lot of confidence. Even when we have somebody who’s not hitting, we have several people who can score."
The latter point was certainly evident on Wednesday night. Center Olayinka Sanni, the team's leading scorer, had a bit of an off night from the field, finishing five of 12. Though Sanni's shots weren't falling, her teammates picked her up. Junior Chakhia Cole led the way with 20 points, 11 rebounds and four steals while Auburn transfer Sparkle Davis chipped in with 16 points. Sanni finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Defensively, the Mountaineers were very active against Marshall. West Virginia's defense forced 20 Thundering Herd turnovers, including 15 steals. A dozen of the Herd turnovers came in the first half, which enabled the Mountaineers to jump out to a commanding 41-27 halftime lead.
"We got some easy shots, because the turnovers led to easy shots," Carey explained. "We’ve been doing that all year. The defense has been very consistent. Offensively, we’re struggling sometimes in the half-court, but we’re starting to improve in that area. Overall, I’m very pleased."
So, what sparked this turnaround for a team that was once 8-7?
"I thought that the biggest win was on the road at DePaul to be honest," Carey said of the win over the nationally ranked Blue Demons back on January 9. "We went down by 15 or so, and had been struggling up to that point. All of the sudden – I wish I knew what happened – but I don’t. Whatever happened, I hope it keeps happening. From that point on, we’ve played with a lot of confidence."
Included in the win streak is a win over the Villanova Wildcats, who have been nothing but a headache for Carey and the Mountaineers. In the 14 meetings prior to this past Saturday's win over 'Nova, West Virginia had managed only one win (which came in the 2004 Big East tournament).
"We got the monkey off the back so to speak against Villanova, because we had lost to them 13 regular season games in a row," said Carey. "I was afraid of having a little bit of a letdown out there (against Marshall) to be honest with you, but we came out and played with a lot of intensity."
It's still too early to tell just how good Carey's team is, as they aren't yet halfway through the conference slate. Over the past couple of weeks, though, they've looked a lot like a team that's deserving of playing well into March.