Oklahoma City, OK -- The third time was not the charm for No. 6 seed and underdog Kansas State against No. 3 seed West Virginia as the Mountaineers swept the Wildcats for the season in the quarterfinals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament. West Virginia surpassed expectations this season, finishing three spots higher than anticipated in the Big 12 and 22nd overall in the NCAA with a record of 23-8.
After the game West Virginia coach Mike Carey talked about what he thought was the turning point in a very competitive game.
"I thought we started playing defense," said Carey. "If you remember, we got into the press, got an easy steal, got another layup come down, got another transition layup, that gets us going, to be honest with you.Once we start getting in the lanes, getting our hands on deflections and turning it over a little bit we have athletes that can run up and down the floor and finish.
"There's a lot of things in a game that get you going a little bit, but to me, it was our defense got us going."
The Mountaineers came into the game with a ton of talent and a slew of players who just received top Big 12 honors in regular season play, but the Wildcats came out with confidence playing like they had something to prove.
There were six lead changes in the first quarter as the two teams truly went toe-to-toe, Kansas State being led by Kindred Wesemann who drained a couple of 3s and West Virginia by Tynice Martin, Freshman Big 12 Player of the Year, whose quick first step and pull-up jumpers in the paint were virtually un-guardable by the Wildcats' defense. The first quarter ended with the advantage to the Mountaineers 18-17.
The second quarter continued to see a heavy amount of beyond the arc attempts and makes with both teams finishing the half at 40% or above from the three. West Virginia came into the game on a hot streak after knocking down 13 triples in their last two games of the regular season and kept that up.
Teana Muldrow came up clutch with two more threes to give her a total of three for the half to help keep the Mountaineers in it. Offensively, the Wildcats shared the ball, and all played a part in the success of sticking with the favored West Virginia team.
Very solid and fundamental basketball was played by both teams in the first half with a limited turnover ratio of just 13 between the two teams. Kansas State dominated in the paint with 18 points compared to West Virginia's 12 and shot a very high 50% on their field goals.
But the Mountaineers took advantage of the boards and got 7 second-chance points compared to 0 for the Wildcats. The first-half battle ended with each team scoring 15 points in the second quarter and a half-time score of 33-32 Mountaineers.
West Virginia's athleticism shone through and was a key point to their success in the third quarter. Almost every trip on the offensive end you would see either Bria Homes or Tynice Martin flying through the lane and either scoring or kicking out to Muldrow or Jessica Morton on the perimeter for an easy jumper.
Their defense kicked up a notch as well and steals turned into easy transition points. Every time you thought they were going to pull away, Kansas State would battle back though and show such resilience and fight, with Wesemann and Megan Deines continuing to bust out shots and put on an offensive show.
The Mountaineers went up 11 points in the fourth quarter, their biggest lead of the game, before Kansas State came charging back taking advantage of free throws on trips to the line and a much-needed steal by Breanna Lewis to cut the lead to just 5 with under 5:00 left in the game.
West Virginia just completely kept their cool and took control in the last few minutes, however, wisely making the Wildcats foul them and knocking down the free shots. They milked the clock and hit big buckets as it ticked down.
Kansas State got a little reckless and desperate and could not regain the offensive composure they had shown throughout most of the game. It was a battle to the end, but ultimately West Virginia won out with a final score of 74-65.
Three players finished in double figures for the Mountaineers; Holmes, Morton, and Martin, who finished with 20 points to tie her season high.
Martin talked about the depth of her team and how hard it is to guard them when they have so many players they can put in that will produce results: "I think we're very difficult. I think we're the deepest team in the league so when we do put the bench in, it gives us another push. It takes some pressure off of our starting five."
For the Wildcats, Megan Deines led with 22 points and Wesemann and Lewis finished with 13 and 14 points respectively with Wesemann adding a career-high 10 rebounds as well.
Kansas State is hoping they are not done for the season, and Head Coach Jeff Mittie talked about his team's chances to extend the post-season.
"Do I think the Big 12 is deserving of six teams? I do," said Mittie. "Obviously, we're the sixth team in that. I think we've done enough but, you know, I'm not really -- I just told the team, our resume is right there. They're going to look at our resume; they're going to see it's over 30 games.
"I think we're playing good basketball. We have done, I think, some good things this year, so hopefully we're in."
West Virginia will try to get some rest and gear up to get back at it tomorrow when they take on Texas in the semi-finals at 4 pm CST.