ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Nov. 27, 2021) – The No. 22/23-ranked West Virginia University women’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, as the Mountaineers fell to BYU, 58-57, in the 2021 St. Pete Showcase Championship game at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.
Other than the first quarter, which was 21-11 in favor of WVU, Saturday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair, featuring six ties and six lead changes. In the final seconds of the game, both teams had chances to put the game away at the free-throw line.
Junior forward Esmery Martinez led the Mountaineers in scoring on Saturday, with a team-high 18 points. Additionally, junior guard KK Deans finished in double figures in the game, with 17. She has now tallied 10 points or more in her last 26 games. For the second consecutive game, fifth-year senior center Blessing Ejiofor paced West Virginia on the glass, with a team-high seven rebounds.
After BYU took the opening tip and lead to begin the game, WVU strung together a pair of scores to bag its first advantage of the game at the 8:36 mark of the first quarter. The Cougars sank a 3-pointer minutes later, but Martinez followed it up with a score of her own to cut the Mountaineers’ deficit to 9-8 at the media break.
West Virginia came out of the timeout determined to retake the lead and did so by going on a 15-2 run to end the quarter. The spark came from fifth-year senior forward Ari Gray, who scored six points during that stretch to help WVU lead by 10 heading into the second.
The Mountaineers held their 10-point lead through the opening minutes of the second frame and led by as many as 13. BYU cut it to single digits twice during the first five minutes of the quarter, but WVU continued to respond offensively to retake its double-digit lead.
The Cougars rattled in a 3-pointer and tacked on a score in the paint to cut West Virginia’s lead to five points with 4:29 remaining in the half. WVU responded by outscoring BYU, 8-5, to close out the second, which included three points each from Gray and Martinez. West Virginia took a 37-29 lead into the locker room.
WVU got on the board first and got its lead back to 10 to start the second half, but over the next three minutes, it was all BYU. A pair of 3’s from Shaylee Gonzales and four tallies from Paisley Harding wiped out the Mountaineers’ advantage, as the game was tied at 39-39 at the 6:24 mark of the third. A driving score from Deans helped West Virginia retake the lead at the media timeout.
Following the break, BYU netted six points to jump back out in front, but senior forward Kari Niblack hit a jumper to make it a 45-44 game in favor of the Cougars, as the final 10 minutes would decide the game.
The Mountaineers controlled the first half of the fourth quarter and jumped out to a 52-47 lead thanks to a pair of 3’s from Deans. 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 to go in the game.
Martinez scored twice down the stretch to tie the game, while the Cougars got a bucket of their own. With three seconds remaining, Gonzales drew a foul to send her to the line to take the lead. She netted both, and on the other end of the floor, Niblack drew a foul with 0.4 seconds left in the game for a chance to tie it up. The senior forward made the first, but after a WVU timeout, her second free throw spun out and did not convert.
West Virginia finished the game shooting 22-of-54 from the field and made four 3’s, all which came from Deans. WVU forced 23 BYU turnovers and converted 24 points off those chances. The Mountaineers also outrebounded the Cougars, 34-26.
Of note, Deans was selected to the 2021 St. Pete Showcase All-Tournament Team, after averaging 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game over the last two contests.
Next up, West Virginia travels to Lexington, Kentucky, on Wednesday, Dec. 1, to square against Kentucky in the 2021 Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tipoff from Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.
Press Release: WVU Athletic Department