MORGANTOWN — They are the same and yet completely different — the WVU women’s basketball team and Virginia Tech, who will do battle in the WNIT semifinals March 28.
That statement probably doesn’t make much sense, but in the worlds of WVU coach Mike Carey and Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks, it was long ago realized and is now probably no more than an afterthought.
Injuries, players leaving school, not having players available when expected, players playing hurt or out of position — these have been the unfortunate sidebars attached to both teams this season.
One more: Both teams still believe they belonged in the NCAA tournament, instead of tipping off at 7 p.m. today, at the WVU Coliseum, for the right to play in the WNIT championship game.
“We got kind of knocked down when we didn’t make the (NCAA) tournament,” said WVU forward Teana Muldrow, the Mountaineers’ backbone this season, who set a school postseason record with 33 points in WVU’s quarterfinal win, against St. John’s. “We were all kind of down about that and hung our heads some, but we made it this far and there is still basketball to be played.”
The two teams already played this season, a 79-61 WVU victory in November, during the finals of the Paradise Jam, in Melbourne, Fla.
“You can’t go too much by that game,” Carey said. “A lot has changed since then.”
That may be an understatement.
The Hokies (22-13) played that day on the verge of cracking into the national top 25 polls and with junior point guard Chanette Hicks, a preseason all-ACC selection.
WVU (25-11) played that day on the verge of cracking into the nation’s top 10, while still believing star guard Tynice Martin would return to action later in the season and with a healthy backcourt.
Flash forward to March for the Hokies: Hicks left the team for personal reasons, leaving Virginia Tech without a point guard, starting forward Alexis Jean missed seven games with a knee injury and Rachel Camp was switched from shooting guard to power forward.
For the Mountaineers: Martin never came back, Muldrow played out of position all season at center, forward Kristina King missed time with a foot injury, and starting guards Kristina Pardee and Chania Ray are playing, but both have knee injuries.
That does not change what’s on the line today. A trip to the WNIT finals, while not the most crowning achievement in the basketball world, would add some legitimacy to either’s school’s claim that it may have been overlooked by the NCAA tournament.
And both schools will lean on a featured scorer to lead the way.
For the Hokies, that is junior guard Taylor Emery, who was an all-ACC second-team selection. She averaged 18.3 points — her season average — in Virginia Tech’s first four WNIT games.
The 5-foot-10 guard from Tampa put up 30 against Duke and 32 against Virginia during the regular season, but was held to 3 of 11 from the field and seven points against the Mountaineers.
“We got out on her and I think she got in a little foul trouble, too, which hurt her,” Carey said. “She is someone who can shoot the 3 and can rebound. She’s a great offensive rebounder and someone who can get physical with you and drive it. She’s a really good player.”
The Mountaineers will counter with Muldrow, who has averaged 18.5 points during the WNIT.
“The match-up is going to be different,” Carey said. “They’re not going to switch (on screens) with their center, like St. John’s did. Quite frankly, their center (Regan Magarity) is more like Teana. She can shoot the 3 or take you off the drive. She’s a little bit taller than Teana. It’s going to be a tough guard for both of them.”
— TCU travels to Indiana, at 7 p.m. today, to play in the second semifinal. The winners will meet, at 3 p.m. Saturday, for the championship. If WVU advances, school officials are projecting the Mountaineers would host the WNIT championship only if TCU defeats Indiana. The Hoosiers averaged a crowd of 4,200 during the WNIT, while WVU’s average crowd is 1,787.
— Tickets are $9 for reserved seats, $7 for general admission, $5 for youths and $4 for groups of 10 or more. WVU will give away 1,000 “Beat Virginia Tech” signs and 1,000 gold foam fingers. In addition, the first 250 fans will receive a voucher for a free hot dog, chips and 20-ounce drink combo from the concession stands.