MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia women had an up-close view of Baylor’s Brittney Griner last season, so the prospects of facing Albany’s big-and-tall center Megan Craig shouldn’t be intimidating.
Still, coach Mike Carey doesn’t want his players making allowances for Craig’s size in the middle.
“She’s not as mobile (as Griner), but needless to say, when we drive the paint, there’s going to be 6-8 standing there,” Carey said. “We’ve just got to be a little bit more aggressive and instead of settling for shooting over the 6-8 player try to drive around the 6-8 player.”
The scouting report on Craig? Well, Albany lists the New Zealand native at 6-foot-9, which could be a factor in a game of inches. Of course No. 2-seeded West Virginia (29-4) is hoping for a not-so-close game Sunday when it faces Albany (28-4) in their NCAA opener at Baton Rouge.
But the one-and-done climate of tournament time can render heavy favorites timid against nothing-to-lose mid-majors.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Carey said. “When you’re making mistakes out there and you’re not hitting shots you, kind of get a little tight.”
This NCAA tournament brings more pressure then ever for the Mountaineers, who shared the Big 12 regular-season title, narrowly lost to co-champ Baylor in the conference tournament and netted the program’s highest seeding. They enter March Madness ranked No. 7 in the AP poll, having won 12 of their last 13.
As for Craig, her reach has led to a team-high 49 blocks and she averages 12.5 points. But the junior isn’t a dominant rebounder at only 5.9 per game.
“Their four and five, they look to lob to them a lot,” Carey said. “We’ve just got to push (Craig) off the block. If she can stand on the block, catch it and keep the ball above, she can score.”
Though Craig is Albany’s most noticeable player, the most productive is 6-1 forward Shereesha Richards, who compiles 20.3 points and nine rebounds per game.
“They’ve got good size,” Carey said. “They’re used to winning so we really can’t go in there and take them for granted. They’re not as deep as some of the teams we play against in the league, but they have some athletes and they have some people who can score.”