The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 7, 2014

Women’s finale was all-time Coliseum great

MORGANTOWN — If you weren’t among the thrilled, extremely vocal 5,502 fans at the WVU Coliseum last Tuesday night, you missed one of the most memorable sports events in that 44-year-old arena’s history.

The No. 7 nationally ranked West Virginia women’s basketball team captured the Big 12 Conference regular-season co-championship, beating Kansas 67-60 on Senior Night with a wild, wonderful celebration which followed.

Those Mountaineers, coached by the great Mike Carey and assistants, finished the schedule with a sparkling 27-3 overall record and a 16-2 Big 12 mark, which tied three-time defending regular-season champion Baylor (26-4, 16-2 Big 12) for a share of the league crown.

West Virginia now has a No. 2 seed for the weekend’s conference tournament. It has a first-round bye and will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday the winner of today’s opening round game between TCU and Texas Tech.

The conference tourney will be played in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Tuesday celebration after the Senior Night contest included the traditional net-cutting, jumping and joy, but also the surprising unveiling of the title trophy.

Those events followed jubilant up-and-down jumping jointly by the joyful, excited players as fans remained standing and cheering.       

I’ve seen numerous games and similar occasions, including “welcome-back” public greetings for WVU teams coming back from special wins on the road since the Coliseum first opened in 1970.

But this latest by Carey & Co. most certainly deserves a spot among the most memorable that I’ve witnessed as a reporter.

The Mountaineers, who take a 10-game winning streak into the Big 12 tourney, enjoyed a day off on Wednesday. But they returned to practice on Thursday to prepare for the postseason challenges.

To eke out the title-sealing victory, WVU knowingly did not really perform as well as the team is capable — shooting only 38.6 percent from the field (27 of 70).

But the Mountaineers were fully aware of what was on the line, and they found ways to succeed, as usual.

West Virginia, perhaps under heavier pressure than normal, also shot a sub-par 57.9 percent from the foul line, converting only 11 of 19 free throws.

But the Mountaineers outrebounded the visitors by 45-39.

Carey credited the rare achievements as a testament to his Mountaineers’ desire and determination and the leadership of his “five special seniors.”

The veteran of 26 years as a head college coach — 13 as top mentor at Salem College — said, “This is great. We won and we are co-champions. To win the Big 12 in our second year is great, especially with this group of gals.”

WVU fans were invited to gather for a send-off for the Mountaineers at 5 p.m. yesterday when they left from Milan Puskar Stadium by bus to Clarksburg.

Greeters also could wish the team well as Carey & Co. boarded a chartered plane at the North Central West Virginia Airport for Oklahoma City at about 5:45 p.m. yesterday.

It also was revealed yesterday that West Virginia’s game at 7 p.m. on Saturday will be televised by Root Sports.

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