MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — JJ Quinerly and Madisen Smith are West Virginia’s dynamic duo. The guards are WVU’s leading scorers and on-court leaders.
Word of the tandem’s potency has spread quickly through the Big 12 — opposing coaches recognize that, in order to beat the Mountaineers this season, their teams must contain these talented guards.
Smith, the veteran of the duo, has embraced a new role this season as a scoring threat. The fifth-year guard crossed the 1,000-point threshold for her career earlier this season, and has seen her scoring average increase each season over the last three years.
“I’ve had to deal with Madisen Smith for a while now,” Texas’ Vic Schaefer said with a smile earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Quinerly burst onto the scene last season as a true freshman, but this year, she’s taking her game to a new level. She leads West Virginia’s roster in scoring, and has played her best ball against the toughest competition. She averages 18.3 points per game against Big 12 opponents, ranking fourth in the league, and besting her overall average of 14.7 PPG.
“She’s young — just a sophomore — but man, what a difference-maker she is,” Schaefer said of Quinerly. “An impact player, going to be a great player for years to come.”
The duo is leading the way in Dawn Plitzuweit’s first season in charge of the Mountaineers, and while they have taken over as on-court leaders for WVU, the rest of the coaches around the Big 12 have taken notice of their abilities.
“Their guards are really tough, some of the best in the conference,” Texas Tech head coach Krista Gerlich said in January, after the duo combined for 33 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists in WVU’s win over the visiting Red Raiders.
As a sophomore, Quinerly has arrived as one of the best scoring options in the Big 12, reaching double figures in each of her last 13 appearances. Opposing coaches have complimented Quinerly’s shot selection, adding that she’s especially hard to guard when she gets a full head of steam on a drive toward the basket.
“She’s such a threat with the ball in her hands, playing downhill. She’s making threes,” said Baylor head coach Nicki Collen after Quinerly dropped a team-high 18 points and filled the stat sheet in West Virginia’s upset win over the nationally ranked Bears.
Coaches around the league use words like “dynamic” and “hard to guard,” when speaking about Smith and Quinerly’s abilities. They also noted the pair’s leadership qualities.
Asked how Quinerly and Smith can be effective despite their small stature — neither standing taller than five-foot-eight — veteran Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly stated while they’re not tall, they have the physical capabilities to be effective.
“They’re very strong kids. They both play off one another. They can be the point guard, they can be the off guard, then they can run them off a stagger,” Fennelly said. “Defensively, they’re willing to stick their nose in there and compete. That was without a question, the number one thing on the scouting report for us.”
Gerlich also noted their explosiveness, adding while both are quick and athletic, they manage to play under control.
While the two combine for 27.5 points per game overall, their defensive abilities are truly what catch the eyes of opposing coaches.
“Great defenders,” said TCU head coach Raegan Pebley. “To JJ and Madisen’s credit, they’re two-end players. They impact both ends of the floor. They’re playing nice basketball.”
Quinerly ranks third in the Big 12 in a key defensive stat, averaging 2.2 steals per game.
“She can impact the game at both ends of the floor,” Fennelly said of the Norfolk, Virginia native. “She’s a good defender.”
Smith averages just under 1.5 steals per contest, but consistently does things on the defensive end that might not show up on the stat sheet. With Quinerly taking a lot of the weight off her shoulders at the guard spot, Smith can facilitate on offense, and be the first wave of attack on the other end.
Quinerly was a unanimous selection for the Big 12 All-Freshman Team last season, and is likely headed towards some form of all-conference recognition again this year. Smith, too, was part of the conference’s all-freshman roster as a first-year guard, and is likewise having her best season in the college ranks.
While Quinerly is gaining respect as a young playmaker, Smith has earned the respect of opposing coaches as a veteran who stuck with WVU during a time of transition and is helping the team excel under new leadership.
“I love Madisen Smith. I think she’s absolutely incredible,” Jenni Baranczyk of Oklahoma said following a New Year’s Eve shootout between the Sooners and Mountaineers. “She gave us some matchup problems. But also in her fifth year, I think that’s pretty special.”