MORGANTOWN -- Off to an impressive 4-2 start, West Virginia women's basketball coach Mike Carey will get a taste of Big East Conference basketball tonight when his Mountaineers face the Hurricanes in Miami.
Carey believes his team can be competitive with the 'Canes, who posted a 13-14 record last season, which included a 6-11 mark in Big East play. Miami brings a 3-2 record and are coming off a 60-57 loss at Kentucky.
"This will be a big test for us," Carey said. "But we're not going down there to be intimidated and get beat.
"We have every intention of winning the game."
Although it is too soon to tell just how competitive WVU will be in the Big East this year -- WVU went just 3-13 in league play in 2000-2001 -- the improvement in the play of the team from last season is dramatic from a statistical standpoint.
West Virginia is shooting 47.4 percent from the field this season, compared to just 38.2 percent from the field last year. The Mountaineers were outrebounded 42.9-35.5 last season, but show a 44-35.7 lead in that category this year.
Opponents outscored WVU 79.3-63.8 last year, but the Mountaineers have outscored their opposition 75.3-67.7 thus far.
These numbers will likely pale some after conference play begins in earnest, but maybe WVU's 90-53 trouncing of Wright State shows just how much the team has improved. Last year, Wright State upended WVU 69-65 in Morgantown.
Sophomore forward Kate Bulger, the team's leading scorer, says Carey has instilled a confidence in the team that was lacking last season.
"His attitude of winning is contagious," Bulger said. "He's always pushing us, telling us we can be better and we're striving to meet that.
"Everybody on the team is just playing five notches above what we played last year."
Bulger has averaged 18.3 points through the first six games. Freshmen guards Sherell Sowho (16.0) and Yolanda Paige (12.2) are also averaging double figures.
Paige also contributes 5.7 assists per game and despite her five-foot-six stature, also leads the team in rebounding at 5.7 per game.
Six-foot-three senior center Brandi Batch averages 9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while former Braxton County all-stater Mary Grace Carson, a 6-2 junior, contributes three points and four rebounds per game as the fifth starter.
"We're nowhere near where we need to be," Carey said. "But I've seen improvement every game and that's what I'm looking for.
"I'm anxious to see how we play down there."
Miami leads the all-time series 10-1, and beat WVU 84-68 last season.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org