Mountaineers Look To Repeat as Big 12 Champs
By JIM BUTTA
MORGANTOWN — Mike Carey enters his 17th season as head coach of West Virginia University with a penchant for setting new standards and taking his program to heights not believed possible before.
“Right now, I like what our starters are doing,” Carey said. “But, we need a bench.”
Coming off the program’s first Big 12 Tournament championship and the loss of senior center Lanay Montgomery to the WNBA, the former Salem International men’s head coach had Mountaineer Nation looking forward to the beginning of this season.
And, why not?
The Mountaineers returned a solid lineup led by AP and WBCA All-American Honorable Mention Tynice Martin.
All the junior-to-be had done was tally 82 points — third most in Big 12 tournament history — en route to earning the Most Outstanding Player award as WVU advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year.
Returning back to Morgantown with Martin are senior-to-be Teana Muldrow, as well as two other starters — Katrina Pardee and Chania Ray.
“Like I said, our first five are pretty darn good,” Carey said. “And, when we get Tynice back, we should be even better.”
However, Mountaineers fans may not see the 5-foot-10 Martin until late December or early January thanks to a knee injury suffered while she was attempting to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic U23 team.
“Look, this is college,” Carey said. “We have to replace players every year. Tynice is a big part of our team and we will miss her. But, others will have to step up and contribute more until her return and our new players are going to have to step up and give us some solid play.”
And, that has happened — for the most part — for the No. 11 Mountaineers as they have raced out to a 4-0 mark to open the season.
“When Tynice went down we understood that each of us would have to step up our game,” explained Muldrow, who entered her final season in Morgantown 25th all-time in career scoring with 1,120 points. “I’m not worried about my scoring because my teammates do a great job of getting me the ball in great positions to score.”
Not without some push from their veteran head coach.
“I called timeout (in the team’s first game) and gathered the girls around and said, ‘I want to introduce all of you to Teana Muldrow. She’s one of the best players in the Big 12 and maybe in the country so you might want to get her the ball.'”
The strategy worked as the New Jersey native is averaging more than 25 points per game in WVU’s first three outings, shooting better than 60 percent from the field.
Pardee, a junior, and senior forward Kristina King are also averaging double digits. Pardee, who is averaging four assists per game, is contributing 15 points per game while King chips in with 13 points and seven rebounds per outing.
The big surprise thus far this season has been the play of 6-foot guard/forward Naomi Davenport. The Trinity Valley Community College transfer is second on the team in scoring with a 18 points per game norm and, like Muldrow, averages a double-double with 10 rebounds every game.
“We all know that Naomi (Davenport) can score,” Carey said. “The question is ‘Can she play defense?’ If we can get her to play defense then she has the opportunity to really help us this year. It does no good for a player to go out and score 20 points when the player they are going scores 21.”
Running the show is Ray.
The Virginia native finished with a unique double-double in WVU’s 89-57 win over North Florida as the 5-foot-8 sparkplug dished out 10 assists, but also led the team with 11 rebounds.
Rounding out the roster is junior Anja Martin and freshmen Ashley Jones, Destiny Harden, Nia Staples, Makayla Stanley and Krystaline McCune.
“And, that explains why our bench has not been as productive as we need them to be,” Carey said. “We’re young. Maybe younger than last year. Players need to learn their roles quickly and accept them. If they can do that, and play defense, then they will play.
“If not, then they won’t play and our starters will have to be prepared to stay on the floor longer until our bench players learn to play the way we expect them to play.”