MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As ESPN’s cameras cut to various schools around the country, preening over coaches not named Mike Carey and projecting other teams’ chances for becoming March Madness darlings, the West Virginia women sensed that old cloud of disrespect still hovering.
Yet the Mountaineers received ample respect from the minds who mattered most: the NCAA selection committee.
West Virginia (29-4) earned a No. 2 seed—the program’s high-water mark—and will open tournament play Sunday against 15th-seeded Albany (28-4) in Baton Rouge, La. (Tip-off is 3 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.)
A second-round matchup against homestanding No. 7 seed LSU might follow before WVU can advance to Louisville where regional hosts and No. 3-seeded Cardinals likely would await. Tennessee received the region’s top seed.
The No. 2 seed was the best-case scenario for West Virginia, which eight days ago lost the Big 12 championship game 74-71 to Baylor, another team that drew a No. 2 seed.
“For the committee to give us a 2 seed is great,” Carey said. “I really thought we might be a 3 after losing the Baylor game, but I think the committee saw what we did throughout the course of the year.”
Carey wasn’t so appreciative of ESPN’s bracket show coverage, feeling the analysts gave only courtesy mentions to WVU before pumping up lower-seeded teams. Whether the slight was real or perceived or the quirk of a network’s production decision to focus on larger ratings markets, Carey sounded intent about carrying the grudge forward.
“That should fire the team up,” Carey said. “I didn’t think we got the respect on TV that we deserved. It seemed 3 seeds were getting more respect than we were. Even 5 and 10 seeds were getting more respect. There’s a lot of things that ruffled my feathers. They’ve got me fired up now.”
Guard Taylor Palmer, one of WVU’s five seniors, said ESPN’s scant attention toward the Mountaineers “was disappointing, and I feel like everybody was a little upset. I think that we’ll use that as motivation and come out and prove people wrong like we did all year.”
Carey liked that bit of incentive, especially for a squad that has been showered with compliments locally.
“I could tell as that show went on and on our girls were getting not real happy. That’s OK, though—I want them mad. I want them to have a chip on their shoulder. I want them going in hungry. Evidently we still have a lot to prove to the country.”
That validation will only come through a tournament run that surpasses the program’s history of abrupt exits—nine previous NCAA appearances without ever once reaching the Sweet 16. Seven of those berths were achieved under Carey
“We just have not went out in the NCAA tournament and did well—I’ll be the first to admit,” Carey said. “We’ve got to start doing better in the NCAA tournament. Hopefully this will be the year we do that.”
Among the first texts center Asya Bussie received after the brackets’ unveiling came from her boyfriend, men’s team point guard Juwan Staten, who was in Washington, D.C., preparing for Tuesday night’s NIT game.
The two have been dating since last season when Bussie’s then-teammate YaYa Dunning—an Ohio native, like Staten—played matchmaker. It seems Staten had noticed Bussie during his 2011-12 transfer year and even found himself analyzing her post game.
“Me and YaYa, we talked a lot, and I let YaYa know that I liked Asya,” he said. “Now I didn’t really expect her to go back and tell her, but she did and everything worked out. So thanks to YaYa for that one.”
Bussie confirmed most of the When-Juwan-Met-Asya details: “Yes, YaYa hooked us up … but I’m pretty sure he wanted her to tell me.”
As you might expect from two All-Big 12 performers with undergrad degrees in hand, they spend there together time “talking about basketball—a lot,” Bussie said. When their relationship started, Bussie was rehabbing a torn ACL that sidelined her last season.
“That was frustrating time for her, because she hadn’t had an injury that caused her to sit out before,” Staten said. “Her emotions were all over the place.
“But we got in the gym and worked on some things—even if it was just sitting down dribbling a basketball. Really, it was anything to take her mind off the injury and think about the positives of next season.”
Staten made every women’s home game his schedule allowed this season, and even before the ones he couldn’t attend Bussie said he always sent a pregame text that read: “Be a pro.”
“I just try to send her a text before every game just to remind her to be a leader, be a captain, and I always end it with ‘be a pro.’ I just want to put in her mind that that’s what she is and everybody has confidence in her.”
The affirmations, pick-me-ups and rehab drills must be working. Bussie enjoyed her most productive season as the Mountaineers women shared the Big 12 regular season title.
Said Bussie with a widening grin: “He actually helps me a lot.”