After the conclusion of Mike Carey’s 19th season as the head coach of WVU women’s basketball in 2020, there wasn’t much he could predict about his 20th.
Like their fellow Mountaineers on the men’s side, West Virginia embarked on an unprecedented campaign that became even more unpredictable as the season went on. Week after week, though, they stayed the course and finished the season with a 22-7 overall record, including a 13-5 conference mark. They earned a two-seed in the Big 12 Tournament, but eventually fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, this year had ups and downs, but the Mountaineers made it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
HIGH: Kysre’s offensive explosion
West Virginia’s biggest factor on offense was undoubtedly redshirt senior Kysre Gondrezick, who made a big improvement in her game and led the team in scoring at 19.5 points per game (up 4.2 points from 2020).
The former Michigan guard put up 20 or more points 15 times this season, including a 30-point showing against TCU as the high point. She knocked down 64 three-pointers this season — the third-most in the Big 12. She also scored her 1,000th collegiate point on Nov. 28 against LSU, and has amassed 1,008 points at WVU alone.
The most memorable performance of Gondrezick’s season came when the Mountaineers hosted No. 17 Texas on Jan. 9. The Mountaineers blew the Longhorns out, 92-58, as Gondrezick dropped 24 points to lead the team a day after the tragic passing of her father, Grant.
Gondrezick earned a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team nod, while keeping a spot on the Naismith Trophy Midseason Watch List.
LOW: Early exit from the NCAA Tournament
Mike Carey’s squad hit a glass ceiling that has plagued the program since Kittie Blakemore was at the helm in 1992 — a second round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
After coasting by Lehigh in the first round, No. 4 West Virginia met Georgia Tech, a 5-seed. The Yellow Jackets seemed to have West Virginia’s number, as they gave the Mountaineers the same treatment they gave Lehigh — a double-digit defeat in San Antonio.
Georgia Tech’s Lotta-Maj Lahtinen and Lorela Cubaj were on fire as they combined for 43 points. On the other end, they held Gondrezick to just one bucket all game, a three-pointer in the first quarter.
Esmery Martinez, Kari Niblack and KK Deans were the only real offensive threats for West Virginia, as they all scored double-digits.
HIGH: No sophomore slumps in sight
Speaking of Deans and Martinez, they both made massive strides in their second seasons at West Virginia.
Martinez was a force in particular, averaging a double-double as the Mountaineers’ leading rebounder, and the Big 12’s third-leading rebounder. Her scoring average more than doubled in year two, from 5.4 points to 13.6 points per game from her freshman year.
Martinez joined Gondrezick on the All-Big 12 First Team, while Deans earned a spot as an honorable mention with Niblack.
Deans made a nearly-identical jump in scoring, going from 5.4 to 13.8 points per game as a sophomore. She was often tasked with running the point as the season went on, and proved to be a dependable scoring option as she had five 20-plus point games.
LOW: Injuries and transfers set Mountaineers back
Deans also saw an increase in workload after the loss of point guard Madisen Smith in the Mountaineers’ final regular season home game.
Smith was a regular starter for WVU, starting in all 20 of her appearances and averaging 8.7 points. She left WVU’s regular season finale against TCU with a lower body injury, severely depleting the Mountaineers’ depth in the backcourt.
Making matters worse, the frontcourt took a hit in February after the departure of forward Rochelle Norris, who transferred to Virginia Tech. That forced Carey to put more players into the mix, including Blessing Ejiofor and Jayla Hemingway. Both players saw a sharp uptick in minutes, and made the best of their opportunities, raising their scoring averages in the process.
Still, there is no doubt that West Virginia struggled with a shortened bench down the stretch.
HIGH: Pulling off a historic season
West Virginia earned a 2-seed in the Big 12 Tournament, its highest seed since 2014, and a massive step up from its fifth spot in the preseason poll.
En route to that spot, though, the Mountaineers put the college basketball world on notice. They earned half of their wins this season in a row, as they went on a 11-game win streak from Dec. 21 to Feb. 13.
WVU cracked the national rankings in the middle of that run, finally getting up to No. 17 in the country by the end of the regular season.
WVU took advantage of that high seed in the tournament, as well, but it took some work. The Mountaineers made a unique comeback in their first game in the Big 12 Tournament, coming back from being down seven points in the final two minutes and eventually winning on a last-second layup from Deans. The Mountaineers went on to the tournament finals, but fell to top-seeded Baylor.