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Mountaineers Aim to Slow Down Lee and Rolling Wildcats

On Saturday, Mike Carey’s Mountaineers will return to the Coliseum for action for the first time in the 2022 calendar year, looking to get their first Big 12 win of the year against Kansas State.

The Mountaineers (7-4, 0-1 Big 12) are looking to win their first game of the new year, while the Wildcats (12-2, 2-0 Big 12) will look to stay undefeated in conference play. Kansas State has played two Big 12 games thus far, winning against Baylor and Oklahoma State. With the postponement of the Kansas game, the Mountaineers only have one Big 12 game under their belt, which was a loss to Iowa State on Jan. 2.  

WVU will most likely see turnovers come into play against Kansas State, as it has been an up and down battle throughout the season. WVU’s defense does a good job of forcing turnovers, as opponents average 22.5 turnovers per game against the Mountaineers. WVU forced 12 turnovers against Iowa State, but they turned the ball over 12 times themselves. 

The Mountaineers are averaging 17.2 turnovers per game, which must improve as Big 12 play picks up. With good defensive pressure, the Mountaineers can really separate themselves from opponents if they take care of the ball on top of that. 

Kansas State is undoubtedly led by 6-foot-6 center Ayoka Lee. Lee averages 23.9 points per game and has scored 43 points in a game this season. Lee scored 32 points against Baylor while shooting 11-for-16 from the field. She put up 18 points against Oklahoma State and shot 8-for-11 from the field. 

On Friday, head coach Mike Carey spoke to the media and was asked about trying to stop Lee in the post, and what his team can do to slow her down. 

“They’re going to go to her. “Like I always say, ‘it takes three people to guard a post player like that,” Carey said. “You have to have ball pressure on the ball. You have to front her, and you have to get weak side, deep weak side. They’re going to skip pass and that, and if they’re hitting those threes, then we’re going to have to live with some of them because we’re not just going to let her have easy touches in the paint.” 

WVU fifth year senior center Yemiyah Morris, among others, may be tasked with trying to defend the opposing Lee of Kansas State. Morris scored 14 points against Iowa State and stands at 6-foot-6 herself. Morris also saw her minutes increase in the Iowa State game, as she played 23 minutes after averaging only 8.4 minutes per game. 

In order for the Mountaineers to keep pace with the Wildcats, they will need K.K. Deans to keep scoring, as well as see contributions from some other faces. Deans averages 15.1 points per game but hasn’t shot the ball that well over the last two games. Against Michigan State, Deans scored four points while shooting 2-for-10 from the field. In the loss to Iowa State, Deans scored 17 points, but only shot 4-for-16. 

Head coach Mike Carey will need to have others help Deans out with the scoring load, and Esmery Martinez has the ability to do that. Martinez averages 12.1 points per game and scored 21 points off 9-for-13 shooting in WVU’s win against Michigan State on December 21st. Martinez did not play in the loss to Iowa State but will be back in action for the Mountaineers on Saturday. 

On Friday, coach Carey was immediately asked if the team is full strength. 

“Right now, we are,” said Carey. Kari [Niblack], with her knee, we don’t know how much we’ll get out of her, if she’ll even play, but everyone else is back.” 

Niblack, a senior forward for the Mountaineers, is currently averaging 6.4 points per game for the team. 

The Mountaineers and Wildcats will tip-off at 7:00 p.m. from the Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia. The game can be televised on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. 

Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography

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