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West Virginia to give UB quite a test in WNIT

First-time Women’s National Invitation Tournament participant the University at Buffalo faces some formidable challenges against West Virginia Thursday night in the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown W. Va. (Radio 1520, 7 p.m.).

First, there’s postseason experience. The Mountaineers will be making their ninth consecutive postseason appearance, but first in the WNIT since 2009. It’s only the second postseason appearance beyond the conference-tournament level for UB, which played in the WBI in 2011.

They feature the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 Conference, All-America candidate Bria Holmes, a 6-foot-1 forward averaging 19.2 points per game. She was a unanimous All-Big 12 first team selection the last two seasons. They also have a 6-5 center, sophomore Lanay Montgomery.

Also, West Virginia (18-14, 7-11 Big 12) has won 13 straight home games against nonconference opponents, dating to the 2013-14 season.

That should be more than enough to test the mettle of coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s team, which made it to the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament last week before falling to eventual champion Ohio University, 63-55. That left UB with a 19-12 overall record.

Legette-Jack and her team are excited about facing the Mountaineers for the first time.

“We’re excited to play a great program from the Big 12 in West Virginia,” she said.

Two UB senior starters, forward Kristen Sharkey and Christa Backus, will be trying to extend their collegiate careers. Sharkey was a second-team All-MAC selection and made first team All-MAC Tournament. She is averaging 14.4 ppg. Backus averages 7.9 rebounds. Sophomore forward Alexus Malone is averaging 10.6 ppg and 7.8 rebounds.

Two faces with Buffalo connections will be on the West Virginia bench. Former Lafayette High and WVU star Lester Rowe is an assistant coach for the Mountaineers and assistant to the head coach Pat Biondo is a Williamsville East graduate. WVU head coach Mike Carey has a 292-160 record in 14 seasons at the school and has 580 overall college coaching wins in 26 seasons, the first 13 of those at Salem College.

The teams have faced one common opponent this season. UB defeated Saint Francis (Pa.), 88-80, on Nov. 18, while WVU blasted the Red Flash, 101-46 on Dec. 29.

The winner will play the winner of Drexel and Hampton in the second round to be played March 21-24.