MORGANTOWN — When the question was first posed, Chania Ray understood all the reasons for the WVU women’s basketball team not to play in the WNIT.
They just didn’t matter much.
“Playing in it was obvious,” said Ray, the senior point guard who scored 15 points and added 14 assists in WVU’s early round wins, against Bucknell and St. Joseph’s. “Not playing in it wasn’t an option.”
WVU head coach Mike Carey left the decision to play in the tournament up to his players, many of whom were hurting, injured or both.
By the end of the Big 12 tournament, WVU’s rotation was down to eight players with whom Carey felt comfortable.
Three of the starters — Ray (knee), Kristina King (foot) and Katrina Pardee (knee) — were playing hurt.
Injuries also forced senior forward Teana Muldrow to play out of position as the Mountaineers’ center, for which her 6-foot-1 frame was severely undersized against Big 12 competition.
Still, “We never had it in our minds that we weren’t playing,” Ray continued. “From a team standpoint, we just want to continue to play together. We had already given up a few games (during the regular season), so we just thought, ‘Let’s go win this, now.’ ”
That is a position which strengthens with each WVU win.
The Mountaineers (23-11) will host a young but talented James Madison team (23-10), at 5:30 p.m. March 23, for the right to advance to the WNIT quarterfinals.
The Dukes, under second-year head coach Sean O’Regan, have won 49 games in the last two seasons and advanced to the third round of the WNIT for the second straight time.
“They play hard and they have a good team,” Carey said of the Dukes. “They’ll play some zone, and they’re playing well right now. They’re really shooting it well right now. We’ll have our hands full and we’ll have to shoot the ball well.”
The winner faces St. John’s.
Carey expects the Mountaineers to make another push at a WNIT title. WVU fell in the tournament’s championship game in 2005 and 2015.
“I think our girls have done a good job,” Carey said. “After you win one game, the girls get a little more excited. If you win two, they get a little more excited. I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.
“I think our girls have practiced hard and they are excited about the tournament. That’s good to see.”
Tickets are $6 for general admission, $4 for youth and $3 for groups of 10 or more. Carey’s Crew members and WVU students get in free with a valid student ID or Carey’s Crew membership card.
The first 350 fans will get vouchers for free pizza and a drink at the concession stands. All beer will be half price at the concession stands from 4:30-5:30 p.m.
— Of the eight schools that hosted the first three rounds in the WNIT, WVU is fourth in average attendance — 1,580 fans in wins against Bucknell and St. Joseph’s. The WNIT leader is Indiana, which averaged 2,618 fans in wins against UT Martin and Milwaukee. Alabama was last, averaging 307 fans in wins against Southern and Central Florida.
— WVU has never lost a home game in the WNIT, going 11-0. The Mountaineers are 9-0 at the WVU Coliseum under Carey in the WNIT.