ST. PETERSBURG, Fla .– The 22/23-ranked West Virginia University women’s basketball team suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday afternoon as the Mountaineers fell to BYU, 58. -57, during the St. Pete Showcase 2021 Championship game at Eckerd Colleg in St. Petersburg.
Aside from the first quarter, which was 21-11 in WVU’s favor, Saturday’s game was a back-and-forth affair, with six draws and six lead changes. In the closing seconds of the game, both teams had the opportunity to put the game aside at the free throw line.
Junior forward Esmery Martinez led the Mountaineers in scoring on Saturday with 18 points, a team-high. In addition, a junior guard KK Deans finished in double digits in the game, with 17. She has now totaled 10 or more points in her last 26 games. For the second game in a row, fifth-year senior center Ejiofor blessing punctuated West Virginia on the glass, with seven rebounds, a high for the team.
After BYU took the opening point and took the lead to start the game, WVU put on a pair of scores to claim their first advantage of the game at 8:36 of the first quarter. The Cougars lost 3 points later, but Martinez followed up with his own score to reduce the Mountaineers’ deficit to 9-8 during the media break.
West Virginia came out of the timeout determined to regain the lead and did so with a 15-2 streak to end the quarter. The spark came from the fifth-year forward Ari Gray, who scored six points during that streak to help WVU lead by 10 before second.
The Mountaineers held onto their 10-point lead for the first few minutes of the second period and led up to 13 points. BYU reduced it to single digits twice in the first five minutes of the quarter, but WVU continued to respond offensively to reclaim their brace. -digit in advance.
The Cougars scored at 3 points and scored one point in the paint to reduce West Virginia’s lead to five points with 4:29 remaining at halftime. WVU responded by edging out BYU, 8-5, to close the second, which included three points each from Gray and Martinez. West Virginia took a 37-29 lead in the locker room.
WVU entered the board first and reduced their lead to 10 to start the second half, but over the next three minutes it was all BYU. A pair of threes from Shaylee Gonzales and four points from Paisley Harding wiped out the Mountaineers’ advantage as the game was tied at 39-39 at 6:24 of the third. A driving score from Deans helped West Virginia regain the lead in the media timeout.
After the break, BYU scored six points to come back to the front, but the senior forward Kari Ninoir hit a jumper to make it a 45-44 game in favor of the Cougars, as the last 10 minutes would decide the game.
The Mountaineers controlled the first half of the fourth quarter and took a 52-47 lead thanks to a pair of Deans’ threes. After that, BYU went on the attack and scored seven points, including a 3 by Harding, to take a 54-52 lead with three minutes remaining in the game.
Martinez scored twice in the home stretch to tie the game, while the Cougars got their own bucket. With three seconds left, Gonzales fouled to send him over the line to take the lead. She scored both, and at the other end of the field, Niblack fouled with 0.4 seconds left for a chance to tie it. The senior striker netted the first goal, but after a timeout from WVU, her second free throw failed and was not converted.
West Virginia finished the game shooting 22 of 54 from the field and made four 3s, all coming from Deans. WVU forced 23 BYU turnovers and converted 24 points from those chances. The Mountaineers also passed the Cougars, 34-26.
It should be noted that Deans was selected to the overall squad for the 2021 St. Pete Showcase tournament, having averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game over the course of the last two games.
Next, West Virginia will travel to Lexington, Ky. On Wednesday, December 1, to take on Kentucky in the Big 12 / SEC Challenge 2021. The departure from Memorial Coliseum in Lexington is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.