MORGANTOWN — The takeaway for the WVU women’s basketball team playing in the WNIT will not be for a glimpse at the program’s future.
Save for maybe one exception in junior center Theresa Ekhelar.
“I want it to be a bonus for Theresa,” WVU head coach Mike Carey said. “That’s an area we really need to shore up more, especially going into next year.”
The Mountaineers (21-11) will host Bucknell (22-9), at 7 p.m. on March 15, at the WVU Coliseum. The Bison finished second in the Patriot League during the regular season, but were beaten by Navy in the Patriot League tournament semifinals.
Bucknell was a No. 14 seed in the NCAA tournament last season and returned three of its top six players.
Faced with a lack of depth all season and disappointed that the Mountaineers were left out of the NCAA tournament — “We only have ourselves to blame,” Carey said. — the WNIT will not be viewed as some sort of building block for the 2018-’19 season.
That can sometimes be the case in the WNIT, if a team is young and inexperienced, but has aspirations to improve.
Michigan won last season’s WNIT, returned four of its six top players who played in the title game and is now a No. 7 seed in this season’s NCAA tournament.
The Mountaineers are in a different position and the team WVU puts on the court tonight against the Bison will hardly resemble what the Mountaineers will look like next season.
Instead, Carey would love for this tournament to stand as a last chance to shine for players like Teana Muldrow, who will become the school’s all-time leader in games played, with her 139th career game tonight.
A strong performance in the WNIT would not only add to Muldrow’s already impressive career numbers — she’s got 1,725 career points and 929 rebounds — it could also help boost her resume toward a pro career.
Kristina King, too, has aspirations of playing professionally after this season, while Chania Ray (433 assists) is closing in on 450 for her career, but she will continue to play on an injured knee.
“It was the players who wanted to be in this tournament,” Carey said. “The seniors wanted it. I told them, ‘If we’re going to play in it, we’re going to play. We’re just not going to show up.’ They wanted to play, so we’ll see what happens.”
Those three seniors won’t be around next season, while WVU expects to get back Tynice Martin, Anja Martin and Krystaline McCune from injury and Kysre Gondrezick and Lucky Rudd will also join the team after sitting out this season as transfers.
Using the WNIT for next season is difficult when half of next season’s roster is straddled to the bench.
The 6-foot-6 Ekhelar is a different story. She joined the team at the end of the first semester this season after transferring from Ohio State.
She played 13.5 minutes per game and averaged 1.7 points and 2.7 rebounds.
Needing someone to fill in for Muldrow at center next season, Carey said Ekhelar will get a solid audition during the WNIT.
“I’m going to look to get Theresa in there as much as I can,” Carey said. “Just let her make her mistakes and let her do what she does. We need her to get some experience.”
General admission tickets are available at a cost of $5, while youth tickets are $3. Carey’s Crew members receive free admission, while students are also free. A valid student ID or Carey’s Crew membership card must be shown to receive the free ticket.