West Virginia vs. Arizona NCAA Women’s Tournament Prediction and Preview
Here is everything you need to know about West Virginia and Arizona in our Mountaineers vs. Wildcats NCAA Tournament women’s basketball preview.
Greenville Region 1 – First Round
No. 7 Arizona (21-9) vs. No. 10 West Virginia (19-14)
Game Info: 11 a.m. CT, Friday, ESPN
How They Got Here
Arizona and West Virginia were both selected as at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament.
Winner gets: A second-round game against the winner of the game between Maryland and Holy Cross.
Projected starting lineups
Arizona: G Shaina Pellington, G Lauren Fields, G Jade Loville, F Esmery Martinez, F Cate Reese.
West Virginia: G Madisen Smith, G Jayla Hemingway, G JJ Quinerly, G Kyah Watson, F Kylee Blacksten.
Player to watch
F Esmery Martinez: She’s a name familiar to WVU fans. She played for the Mountaineers for three seasons, earning All-Big 12 First Team honors her sophomore season and All-Big 12 Second Team honors her junior season. After the retirement of coach Mike Carey, Martinez opted to transfer and joined the Wildcats, who were just one season removed from reaching the national championship game. Martinez was an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection this season, but maintained her offensive prowess, averaging 10.5 points and grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game.
G Madisen Smith: She was one of three key players that stuck around after the Mountaineers made a coaching change, with the retirement of Mike Carey and the hiring of Dawn Plitzuweit from South Dakota. Smith earned All-Big 12 First Team honors from Heartland College Sports and All-Big 12 Second Team honors from the Big 12’s coaches. She ended the regular season with a 30-point game against Baylor and earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors. She averaged 14.3 points and 3.0 assists this season. She also has one of the highest-arcing 3-points shots you’ll see, and it goes in 35 percent of the time.
The Wildcats finished in a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 regular-season standings with a lineup that had a distinct Big 12 feel. Not only did Martinez transfer in before the season, but so did Oklahoma State guard Lauren Fields, who was OSU’s leading scorer a year ago. Fields only averaged 4.5 points per game. But she contributed to a team that finished 11-7 in league play. The Wildcats won their first seven games of the season before losing at home to Kansas on Dec. 8. The Wildcats are 1-1 against Big 12 teams this season, as they beat Baylor in Dallas a couple of weeks after the Kansas loss. The Wildcats ended Pac-12 play with two straight losses and were eliminated from the Pac-12 Tournament in their first game against UCLA, a team they beat earlier this season.
New coach Dawn Plitzuweit led South Dakota to the Sweet 16 last season, beating Baylor at the Ferrell Center along the way. That was enough to get her the job to replace Carey. Plitzuweit had a few holdovers from the Carey era (Smith, JJ Quinerly and Jayla Hemingway) and blended them with newcomers to get hot at the right time. After treading water for most of the Big 12 schedule, the Mountaineers entered the Big 12 Tournament on a three-game winning streak, with that last win polishing off a sweep of Baylor. WVU had also won five of its last seven before absorbing a Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal loss to Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers were a bubble team going into Selection Sunday but ended up sliding into the field as a comfortable No. 10 seed.
West Virginia 68, Arizona 65. The Mountaineers feel like the team with the momentum in this game. Arizona has experience with Big 12 teams, and Martinez should certainly be a factor. But WVU’s brand of defense may frustrate Arizona’s skilled scorers enough to allow WVU to reach the second round.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.