Through all of the adversity they faced this season, the Mountaineers are getting a shot at a conference title.
West Virginia is headed to the Big 12 Tournament finals after holding off the three-seed Oklahoma State in Kansas City on Saturday, 59-50.
WVU will face the Baylor Lady Bears on Sunday for the title as the Mountaineers make their first appearance in the finals since they won the tournament in 2017. This is a welcome sight for WVU and its fans, as the team has faced season-ending injuries, transfers, and mid-season schedule changes — but they perservered.
“It’s very satisfying,” said WVU coach Mike Carey. “You’ve gotta give all the credit to the players that are here, I mean, they’re playing a lot of minutes, more than what they should be playing, but they’re finding a way to win.”
West Virginia had a strong performance from the trio of Esmery Martinez, KK Deans and Kysre Gondrezick, who all combined to play 119 out of 120 possible minutes. Martinez was especially key to this win, leading WVU with 19 points and 15 rebounds for her 14th double-double of the season.
She had a battle inside with Oklahoma State’s Natasha Mack, who chipped in 19 points and nine rebounds, while sending back nine Mountaineer shots on the defensive end.
Gondrezick, WVU’s leading scorer on the season, didn’t have her strongest game shooting the ball with a 37.5-percent clip from the field. She still added 16 points, though, and dished out a game-high six assists.
The motor in the backcourt for West Virginia was Deans, who held Big 12 3-point percentage leader Ja’Mee Asberry to just two makes from deep and 14 points total. Deans also added 14 points herself as she played the entire game.
“I thought KK did a great job and paid attention to detail, and when she got picked other people stepped up and helped her,” Carey said.
West Virginia is slated to face top-seeded Baylor, the defending champions who have won eight of the last nine Big 12 Tournaments. That one loss, in 2017, came at the hands of the Mountaineers.
WVU has a steep mountain to climb if they want to repeat history as they fell twice to the Lady Bears in the regular season by an average margin of 21.5 points.
“We were in the game with them both games when Kari and Esmery was in the game,” Carey said. “Both of those games when they got in foul trouble and we had to go smaller is when they took advantage of us, but we’re just gonna have to block out.”
In fact, Carey says that boxing out will be the key to a Mountaineer victory.
Tip-off in the Big 12 Tournament finals is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.