West Virginia rides strong defensive effort to 72-51 victory over Appalachian State

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — First-year West Virginia women’s basketball coach Dawn Plitzuweit believes her team is further along defensively than offensively early in the season.

That was certainly the case Sunday in the Mountaineers’ third game this season as West Virginia smothered Appalachian State for much of the afternoon and gradually pulled away for a 72-51 victory at The Coliseum.

West Virginia (3-0) held Applachian State (1-4) to 17 field goals on 28 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers that helped lead to 21 points.

“We defended at a very high level,” Plitzuweit said. “We changed a little bit how we defended to try and take away penetration.

“Offensively, we have to start the game better. We’ll work on it and get better on it. I told our players one thing at a time.”

The homestanding Mountaineers struggled to score in the early stages and made only 6-of-23 shots in the opening quarter. Outside of 6-foot-3 forward Kylee Blacksten, who scored six points on three field goals through 10 minutes, West Virginia was 3-of-19 shooting in the opening quarter, while Appalachian State hung around and trailed 14-12.

However, ASU was held scoreless for the first 5-plus minutes of the second quarter, and WVU scored six unanswered points to start the frame courtesy of baskets from Sarah Bates, Danni Nichols and Smith.

“When we started the game, we took some quick shots that weren’t as good of shots as we got later on,” Plitzuweit said. “From the second quarter on, we got good shots. Our post players played a good game and we were intentional about getting touches in the lane.”

Appalachian State countered with a 7-2 spurt and pulled to within 22-19 on two Faith Alston free throws, but West Virginia used a 9-2 surge over the final 2:41 of the half to take a 31-22 lead into the intermission. Smith scored five of those nine points and Savannah Samuel and Blacksten converted from close range for the other four points.

Blacksten’s conventional three-point play 1:53 into the second half made it 34-23 and provided West Virginia with its first double-digit lead of the contest, and her 3-pointer 32 seconds later made it 37-25.

“We’re picking up what we’re supposed to do defensively, helping each other in the gaps and moving the ball on offense and taking good shots,” Smith said. “We have our highs and lows, but we’re getting there.”

West Virginia was ahead by double figures the rest of the way and carried a 51-36 lead into the fourth quarter.

WVU put to rest any thought of an Appalachian State comeback early into the final frame. Jayla Hemingway and Smith opened the fourth-quarter scoring with consecutive layups and Blacksten added back-to-back buckets to make it 59-36 for its largest lead of the afternoon.

Blacksten led all players with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and added eight rebounds.

“She was really comfortable under the basket,” Smith said. “She was really posting hard and we emphasized that in practice preparing for this game.”

“Kylee did a really good job of trying to establish herself in the paint,” Plitzuweit added.

Smith followed with 13 points and eight assists, while Hemingway contributed 11 points and eight boards.

Nichols had a strong outing off the bench with nine points and six rebounds.

West Virginia shot nearly 39 percent (29 of 75).

Alston had 10 points to lead Appalachian State, while Lauren Carter and A’Lea Gilbert grabbed seven boards apiece.

“Our post kids did a really good job defensively,” Plitzuweit said. “That was a hard matchup for us.”

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