Mountaineers fall to K-State, putting NCAA hopes in extreme peril

For West Virginia, the long wait until Selection Monday may not result in a happy ending.

The Mountaineers (20-10) watched the ice thin on their hopes of a berth in the NCAA tournament with Saturday’s 72-59 loss to fourth-seeded Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals in Oklahoma City. West Virginia would have been on the inside track to an NCAA tourney bid with a win over a team with the nation’s No. 35 RPI, but now has to wait until March 18 to see if its full body of work is enough.

West Virginia won 11 games in Big 12 play but is hamstrung by a nonconference strength of schedule that sits at 329th nationally. The Mountaineers dropped from 69th to 78th in RPI following their loss to the Wildcats.

Mountaineers coach Mike Carey still thinks his team has done the necessary work to get into the NCAAs despite losing four of the last five games.

“If a team on the men’s side won 11 games on the men’s side in the Big 12 and didn’t get in, y’all would picket,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “It is amazing how this goes on on the women’s side. If this happened on the men’s side, there would be changes. You win 11 games, finish fourth in the third-rated RPI team in the country, and you don’t get in, there’s a big problem with the selection.

“Now we didn’t play well. But we won 11 games in the Big 12. We should be in the NCAA. Watch, on the men’s side there will be teams with losing records in the Big 12 that get into the NCAA. How they do it and we don’t get it done, I have no idea.”

If Saturday’s performance was all that mattered, the only postseason invitation extended West Virginia’s way will come from the WNIT.

The Mountaineers appeared to pay homage to their counterparts in the NCAA rifle championships, but aimed at their own foot rather than a target. WVU committed 25 turnovers that led to 18 Kansas State points. Kansas State’s 18 steals set a record for the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 tournament.

“We turned the ball over way, way too much,” Carey said. “They were attacking the gap and getting steals.”

Senior forward Naomi Davenport led the Mountaineers with 14 points but was harassed into committing 10 turnovers. West Virginia’s other first team all-conference player, junior Tynice Martin, was limited to nine points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field.

Martin averaged 20 points against K-State in the regular season.

“We did not want her to catch-and-shoot,” said Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie. “We had to be very quick to her in rotation. Our group had a great awareness of where Tynice was, but it really started with the ball pressure we had on the point guard at the top of the zone. I felt like we shoved them off the line some and then we had a great awareness of her.”

Due to foul trouble, the Mountaineers got very little playing time from Big 12 Sixth Player of the Year Kari Niblack. The freshman forward scored 13 points, but played just 11 minutes because she quickly picked up four fouls.

Peyton Williams and Rachel Ranke were K-State’s dynamic duo. Williams was a perfect 9-for-9 at the free-throw line on her way to a game-high 22 points, and Ranke drained four 3-pointers en route to 21 points. Point guard Kayla Goth dished out 13 assists for the Wildcats while committing only two turnovers.

K-State led for nearly the entire game, going up by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. The Mountaineers spent most of the game scratching away at that deficit, and nearly erased it when a pair of Martin free throws cut the margin to 53-52 with 6:04 remaining.

Rather than folding, K-State responded with a 9-0 run over the next 2:07 that effectively took the wind out of West Virginia’s sails – and potentially its tournament hopes, as well.

“Down the stretch we made dumb decisions, turnovers,” Davenport said. “We got steals, but when we got into transition we’d turn the ball over. We didn’t get out on the shooters when they got offensive rebounds. And that was the game.”

Mittie asserted “it’s a no-brainer” that West Virginia should be in the NCAA bracket.

“West Virginia is a NCAA tournament team. There is no doubt in my mind,” he said. “Nobody in the tournament will want to play them. I can assure you.

“So all the bracketology … I know they have a lot of criteria for that, but I can tell you if you’re watching that game and you’re watching the eye test, the eye test says West Virginia is an NCAA tournament team.”

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