Manhattan, KS -- West Virginia has been on the road for five days, but it was Kansas State who played like it. Lacking enthusiasm and leadership, Kansas State dropped their third straight conference game on Wednesday.
Though sparks of life did present themselves in lackluster situations, the Wildcats just couldn’t match the offensive presence of the Mountaineers, whose bench scored 33 points for them in a 72-53 rout of Kansas State at home.
West Virginia took the first lead on a Katrina Pardee field goal, and kept it through the first half, despite a beautiful 3-pointer by Kansas State’s Kindred Wesemann to nab the Wildcats’ one and only lead in the contest.
It was at that point the Mountaineer defense decided to take over, faltering only when a Wildcat push early in the second quarter shortened their deficit to a mere four.
"I think defensively they are just big and physical," said Kansas State head coach Jeff Mittie. "They lead the league in blocked shots, so they are going to harass you. It’s not always the one’s that they block, but the ones that they contest and rush a little bit. We saw a lot of that tonight."
Another key to West Virginia’s defense? Silencing Kansas State’s Breanna Lewis, who, before tonight, had 55 combined blocks and steals this season.
"That was definitely a main area," said West Virginia head coach Mike Carey. "If they were going to beat us, they were going to beat us from other areas. They weren’t going to beat us just lobbing it (to Lewis)."
West Virginia’s strict zone held Lewis to two points in the first and made it nearly impossible for Kansas State to drive, forcing rushed attempts due to a waning shot clock.
The Wildcats did, however, manage to add up 20 points in the paint.
And those 20 points would have made a difference if not for West Virginia’s Bria Holmes.
Holmes went 4 of 4 beyond the arc, her first two on consecutive possessions in the first quarter. The six-point swing doubled, the five-point lead held by the Mountaineers, making the score 16-3 and providing West Virginia with its first double-digit lead.
"We saw a lot of open shots on the three-point line," Holmes said. "The middle was kind of clogged. Us knocking down shots opened up the middle more for us, I thought."
Kansas State would close out the lead to only eight points at the end of the first quarter, thanks in large part to smart play from Shaelyn Martin and switching to man defense. Martin nailed a three, grabbed an assist and drew a foul all within 30 seconds to fire up her team—and head coach Jeff Mittie—for the second quarter.
During the second ten minutes, West Virginia’s defense crumbled under the weight of an amped KSU offense—until Holmes stepped in with yet another six-point swing on two shots from beyond the arc.
Mittie switched Kansas State’s defense back to zone come the third, which kept West Virginia from being comfortable, but whatever semblance of fight the Wildcats had floundered with the half as West Virginia went to the locker room up 44-27.
Both teams rebounded 17 times overall, but West Virginia’s long game made the difference, sinking nine 3-pointers compared to Kansas State’s two in the first half.
The Mountaineers came out charged for the second half, beginning in a similar fashion with a Pardee pump fake and jumper.
The Wildcats would again pull within a manageable deficit, but between fouls, poor shooting decisions, and hot West Virginia shooting, Kansas State would fall, 72-53.
"We did not do a good job on the boards, but you know we have been on the road now for five days," Carey said. "I am very happy with the win. I knew Kansas State would keep it a battle and come back. They always do. But it was great to get out of here with a win on the road."
Mittie spoke about a lack of energy in the team’s press conference following the matchup, something the Wildcats hoped to cure before heading to Norman, Okla. to face the No. 17 Sooners.
The last time the Kansas State women's basketball team dropped its first three conference games, the team went 5-13 in the Big 12 and Deb Patterson left. Needless to say, there is much work to be done in Bramlage Coliseum.