Iowa State capitalizes on defensive woes and defeats No. 18 West Virginia

Gold and Blue Nation

West Virginia women’s basketball opened its four-game road trip with a loss to Iowa State on Wednesday, 85-68.

The shorthanded Mountaineers had a tough time defending the Cyclones, who shot 48 percent from three-point range. ISU’s Ashley Joens was held under her Big 12-leading scoring average, but she still notched a game-high 20 points — including a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line.

“Give Iowa State all the credit,” said WVU coach Mike Carey. “They played harder than we did.”

At the outset, it appeared West Virginia was going to have the hot hand. The Mountaineers sunk seven of their first eight shots, including three three-pointers from guards Kirsten Deans, Kysre Gondrezick and Jasmine Carson.

WVU hit a cold stretch of five straight misses in that stretch, which coincided with a 10-0 Iowa State run to give the Cyclones the lead.

The Mountaineers’ short roster started to hurt the team early as Deans and forward Esmery Martinez hit early foul trouble. Deans was especially important as the Mountaineers were missing starting point guard Madisen Smith after she sustained an injury in their last game against TCU.

“Without Madisen at the point, we’re putting people in different positions right now,” Carey said. “This is the first time we did it in a live game, but there was no movement from the top, they were sagging, we just didn’t play well.”

The Cyclones started turning to the three-ball in the second quarter, when they made a trio to build on their lead.

Foul trouble really started to nick at WVU in the third quarter as forward Kari Niblack earned her third foul, joining her with Deans. Niblack then fouled out just a minute into the fourth quarter after scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds.

“Kari was not feeling well, that’s why she wasn’t going the way we normally do,” Carey said.

Three-point shooting proved to be West Virginia’s real killer, as Iowa State went on to make half of their attempts in the second half. The Mountaineers also struggled to defend guard Emily Ryan, who added 11 second-half points — most of which came from in the paint. Individually, Martinez was the leader with 10 rebounds.

Martinez and Niblack’s limited minutes due to fouls brought additional troubles for WVU, as they struggled on the defensive glass. Although they were just edged 36-33, those three extra rebounds for ISU were offensive boards.

A bright spot was the play of Gondrezick, who led WVU with 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting. Unfortunately, she made just one three-pointer, with all four of her misses coming from beyond the arc. Deans finished with 14 points, while Jayla Hemingway added 12.

As March swiftly approaches, Smith’s absence presents some burning questions that Carey must address before the postseason begins.

“I don’t know what we’re gonna do, Kysre can play the point [and] does a great job, it’s just that we weren’t defending,” the coach said. “Their guards, we weren’t getting out, we weren’t boxing out, even when we did defend, we didn’t box out, they got the offensive rebound, we didn’t rotate, and I’m playing some players right now a lot more minutes than what they’ve played in the past and it showed tonight.”

The loss drops West Virginia to 17-4 on the season, with an 11-4 mark in the Big 12. Iowa State improves to 15-9 overall and 11-6 in the conference. Both teams stay steady in the Big 12 standings — WVU sits in second, while Iowa State is narrowly behind Texas in fifth.

WVU continues its road trip on Saturday at 2 p.m. when it faces Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence.

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