By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There are times when a coach can put aside all the coaching and just enjoy the moment.
It doesn’t come often, but the way things had gone for West Virginia University women’s coach Mike Carey and his team with a pair of introductory losses in Big 12 play, the game had stopped being a beauty contest.
As Texas came into the Coliseum on Wednesday, it had reached the moment to adopt Al Davis’ slogan when he ran the Oakland Raiders — “Just win, baby.”
And that’s what his team did, blowing a lead, then coming back and winning, 53-49, against a taller Longhorn outfit.
“We needed to win a game,” Carey declared, his season record now standing at 9-5.
In the end, that was all that mattered. Were they perfect? No.
And when that happens, Carey often will let anyone who wants to hear about it know.
Not this time.
“I’m not going to go over all they did wrong,” he said. “Let’s just get in practice tomorrow. We’ve got Kansas State coming. Believe me, practice will be a lot more fun tomorrow than it would have been if we lost.
“The girls hung in there. They fought. They didn’t play well, but we played well enough to get the win, and that’s what we needed to do.”
Winning was the only goal that Carey carried into the game. There are no moral victories, not when you’re winless after two games and playing at home.
“We just felt ‘keep it close, keep it close, keep it close’ and try to get into the last four minutes with our best players on the floor and we had a chance,” Carey said.
They had kept it close in their prior two conference games, but there was so much they weren’t doing right, especially in the fact that they were fouling and fouling and fouling their opponents and that put Carey into, yes, a foul mood.
For the year, even after the Texas win, WVU has committed 296 fouls while drawing just 248 and been outscored 294-243 at the free-throw line.
“Those two games before this our best players were sitting on the bench. We had a tie or one-point game and we just couldn’t play them because they had four fouls,” he said. “It’s tough. You lose two games by a total of four points and then you come to practice with me the next day, it’s tough.
“I told them (when he’d see a smile at practice), I don’t see anything funny. I don’t see anything funny. It’s not funny. We’re here to win.
“But give them a lot of credit. They worked hard in practice. Again, we didn’t play well, but we played well enough to win. Now we have to build on that.”
The Mountaineers had edged to a halftime lead and played well doing it behind high scorers YaYa Dunning, who finished with 19 points, and Christal Caldwell, who had 16, offsetting the Texas height advantage of playing with a 6-7 center and a pair of 6-4 forwards up front.
But in the second half Carey sensed a change.
“I thought we came out in the second half lackadaisical, you know, standing around, and then they took the lead and went up three or four and we started picking it up again,” he said.
Part of the problem was bad luck.
“I don’t know how many shots we had go in and out at the rim. I mean, we had so many opportunities at the rim and it just wouldn’t go in. But we kept playing hard at the other end, which gave us opportunities,” he said.
Near the end, Brooke Hampton came off the bench cold and hit a key free throw, and WVU wasn’t putting Texas to the line every few seconds as it had done in the past.
“That was amazing. They had to hit us three times to get us in the 1-and-1. We didn’t foul very much ourselves. They only went to the line 12 times. If we can keep them from the line 12 to 20 times, we have a chance to win games. We’ve been putting people on the line 30 to 40 times, and you can’t win games in this league like that,” Carey said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.