MORGANTOWN, W.Va.— The West Virginia women were rewarded with their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament berth Monday night, though as expected of a lower seed, they will face a difficult first-round matchup.
The Mountaineers, 11th-seeded in the Bridgeport Region, will play Sunday against sixth-seeded Delaware on the Blue Hens’ home court in Newark, Del. Tip-off is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. Eastern and will be televised on ESPN2.
West Virginia (17-13) was on the bubble with a No. 54 RPI, so any invite was a relief. Now, after playing the nation’s 18th-toughest schedule, the Mountaineers will visit Delaware (30-3), which sits No. 18 in the RPI and owns a 23-game winning streak.
“It is good we got in,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “To me that says the strength of the league, our reputation and some of the wins we had on the road. We’re happy to be in.”
The Blue Hens feature national player of the year candidate Elena Delle Donne, a 6-foot-5 guard who shoots 49 percent from 3-point range and averages 25.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
“She is a big-time player,” Carey said. “Some of their other players are very good, so you can’t just concentrate on her and let the other players have a career night. We’re going to have to be aware of where she’s at and try to do a good job on her, but also do a good job on the rest of them.”
Delaware went 13-2 at home this season, including a 62-56 loss to Georgetown on Nov. 11 — a game Delle Donne missed while recovering from Lyme disease. Delle Donne returned Dec. 20 for a 69-53 loss to national power Maryland.
“We got a really good draw,” Carey said. “We have to play on Delaware’s home floor, and that’s a good draw for us because it’s close. So hopefully we can get some fans there.”
Carey said the NCAA berth was particularly special in light of WVU losing senior center Asya Bussie and two key reserves — Akilah Bethel and Jess Harlee — to season-ending knee injuries. The Mountaineers went 9-9 in the rugged Big 12 before losing a one-point decision to Oklahoma in the league tournament.
“The players are really excited,” he said. “They were down in the team theater watching it. They are all excited and pumped up. This was a long year. We had three girls go down with ACLs and playing in a new league, so I’m very proud of them for us to make it to the NCAAs this year.”
The West Virginia-Delaware winner will advance to face either No. 3-seeded North Carolina or No. 14 seed Albany on Tuesday.
The Big 12 sent seven teams to the NCAAs, including Kansas, which finished behind WVU in the conference standings.