West Virginia was a top 10 team earlier in the season before falling out of the rankings.
Those struggles resulted in a tough first-round matchup against a Houston team which has won 17 of 18.Making their first NCAA tournament appearance in six years, the eighth-seeded Cougars have the advantage of playing close to home Sunday when they take on the ninth-seeded Mountaineers at Waco.West Virginia (23-9) opened the season 16-0 and was ranked as high as sixth in the AP poll. However, it has played sub-.500 ball since, culminating with a 59-51 loss to St. John's on March 5 in the second round of the Big East tournament."I expected to be an eight or a nine seed," coach Mike Carey told the Mountaineers' official website. "There is no one to blame but ourselves."Despite its inconsistency, Carey's team could benefit in the tournament from a veteran lineup. All-Big East guard Liz Repella, who is averaging 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds, produced 32 points and 23 rebounds over two games in last season's tournament.The Mountaineers earned a No. 3 seed last year, when they beat Lamar in the opening round before losing to San Diego State in the second.West Virginia is also counting on senior Sarah Miles to bounce back after a difficult season. Miles has been limited to 24 games because of injuries and is averaging 8.7 points and 4.5 assists -- both down from last season. However, she has heated up recently, averaging 13.5 points and 6.3 assists in her last six games.The Mountaineers are going to need a lot of players to step up to match Houston (26-5), which will be playing only a few hours from campus and has three players averaging 15 points or more per game.The Cougars won the Conference USA regular-season title after going 16-0 in league play, but were upset by Tulane 70-60 in the tournament semifinals.This is their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, when they lost to Boston College in the first round.Despite the current team's lack of tournament experience, Houston is also laden with upperclassmen.Courtney Taylor, one of the team's five seniors, is averaging 15.7 points and 11.4 rebounds and was named Conference USA player of the year for a second straight season. She struggled in the loss to Tulane, finishing with a season-low four points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes while battling foul trouble."Courtney is certainly a focal point for every opponent, but she's very unselfish," first-year coach Todd Buchanan said. "She's a great passer, and she's great at getting everyone else involved. She doesn't get enough credit for that because of the other things she does so well."The teams last met in 2006, with West Virginia winning 73-47.