West Virginia unable to recover from slow start in 75-62 loss to Arizona

The West Virginia women’s basketball team knew that getting past No. 7 seed Arizona would be a tall task, requiring the Mountaineers to play their best basketball Friday afternoon at the XFINITY Center in College Park, Md.

Instead, the Wildcats built an early lead, never relinquished it and had their way in a 75-62 victory over No. 10 West Virginia. 

Arizona (22-9) got 25 points from fifth-year forward Cate Reese and brought the Mountaineers’ first season under head coach Dawn Plitzuweit to an end. WVU finishes the campaign 19-12.

“Arizona played a great basketball game, starting from the opening tip,” Plitzuweit said. “Our young ladies battled. We started down in the first quarter and dug ourselves a whole. However, our resiliency and toughness showed through. We continued to work to attack.

“We continued to battle throughout the game and it did not go quite our way. We got some good looks. They did not fall for us, but it was not from a lack of effort.”

Senior JJ Quinerly finished with a team-high 19 points in defeat. Kyah Watson added 15 points, and Jayla Hemingway contributed 11.

Despite the early exit from the NCAA Tournament, Plitzuweit views this season as a success. 

The Mountaineers were picked eighth in the preseason Big 12 poll and wound up finishing fifth.

“I do not think many people, when this thing started less than a year ago, would have said that our young ladies would have a chance to be battling and do the things we did this season,” Plitzuweit stated. “I am proud of our young ladies. Their ability to continue getting better and growing was fun, and it was special. It is something we can build upon.”

WVU tried keeping pace with the Wildcats’ fast-moving offense, but fell behind 28-17 after one quarter.

Arizona’s Shaina Pellington was a huge spark for the Wildcats over the opening 10 minutes when she scored half of her 18 points.

“Anything that we tried to get into from a defensive standpoint, we had a hard time slowing them down and taking away some of their actions,” Plitzuweit noted.

Former WVU forward Esmery Martinez, now a Wildcat, scored five of her team’s first seven points to spark a strong start.

Martinez went on to record her eighth double-double this season, finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Mountaineers trimmed Arizona’s lead down to seven, 28-21, early following two free throws from Madisen Smith and Danni Nichols.

Arizona shot 46 percent and made 72 percent of its shots through two quarters to lead 40-33 at halftime.

The Mountaineers came out strong in the first 1:06 of the second half and used a Hemingway jumper and two Watson free throws to make it a one-possession game.

“We tried to do a better job of what we are supposed to do,” Plitzuweit said. “We were trying to do a better job at transition defense. I thought they were good in their transition offense. It started with what our matchups looked like. It was nothing more significant than doing what we wanted to do.”

However, after both sides traded punches, Arizona outscored the Mountaineers 11-4 over the final half of the third period, using a three from Madison Conner to lead 55-48, before Reese closed the scoring in the quarter with a jumper that left WVU trailing, 61-51.

Arizona opened the fourth quarter with a basket from Martinez, two from Reese and one Kaitlyn Gilbert free throw to lead, 68-51.

Things would not slow down for Arizona in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run, and they only allowed a WVU field goal at 6:45 following a Watson triple.

The Mountaineers got back to within 11 after triples from Watson and Smith, who was held to seven points — her fewest since February 7 against Iowa State.

But WVU could draw no closer as the Wildcats maintained their double-digit advantage.

Arizona advances to face No. 2 Maryland on Sunday. The Terrapins protected their home court with a resounding 93-61 win over No. 15 Holy Cross.

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