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NCAA Women’s Tournament: West Virginia expert gives insight into Arizona’s first round opponent

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 27 Womens Washington at Arizona Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the second-seeded Arizona men’s team unceremoniously dumped from the NCAA men’s tournament by 15th-seeded Princeton, it’s time for the Arizona women to try to avoid the second upset in as many days when the No. 7 seed Wildcats face 10th-seeded West Virginia in College Park, Md on Friday morning.

The Wildcats are currently favored by 7.5 points by DraftKings. The O/U is 129.5 and the money line sits at -275 for Arizona. As the men so handily demonstrated, though, all of that can mean nothing if the favorite doesn’t show up or has a bad matchup.

We checked in with Andy Facemire of The Smoking Musket to give us some insight into the Mountaineers and how likely they are to pull off the upset.

Esmery Martinez transferred to Arizona from WVU after last season. She was very accomplished for the Mountaineers and she’s been a big part of what Arizona does. Who has stepped in to fill the roles Martinez used to fill for WVU?

Perhaps no one has taken a bigger next step in their own career or done more to fill the gaps left by transfers and graduations than JJ Quinerly. Though she had a solid freshman year in 2021-22, with 8.8 ppg and earned Big XII All Freshman team honors, she has really elevated her game this season as a leader on and off the floor averaging 14.3 ppg and 2.1 steals. The other figure who has stepped up their game and make WVU’S backcourt so dynamic is fifth year senior Madisen Smith. Smith also stepped up her shooting and went from 9.2 ppg last season to 14.3 as well. She also generals the Mountaineer offense with 3 assists a game.

This is the first year for head coach Dawn Plitzuweit. What has she brought to the Mountaineers that differs from what they did before? What stands out about their style of play?

First, I want to say what a tremendous job Coach P has done in her first season. Mike Carey was a legend and took the program to another level, but things had clearly fallen off a bit at the end. As I mentioned above, losing Martinez was a big blow, but they adapted well.

Stylistically, there’s not a huge difference between what Carey wanted to do and what Coach P has brought. Very solid man to man defense, but have been more stout this season, allowing just 61.3 ppg.

Offensively, the Mountaineers want to slow you down and grind things out. That’s not really different from the Carey approach, but Coach P’s team shoot a significantly higher number shoots behind the arc.

Arizona is undersized on the interior this season. Teams that have given them trouble tend to have size in the front court. Is there anyone on West Virginia’s team who can put that kind of pressure on starting front court Cate Reese and Esmery Martinez?

I started to put this under the last question, but certainly an aesthetic (and it has downstream effects) difference for this team is a lack of a quality big like WVU greats Olayinka Sanni, Aysa Bussie, or even Teana Muldrow in a pinch. Like Arizona, WVU lacks size in the front court and live (and die) by guard play. At 6’3”, Kylee Blacksten provides most of the minutes and interior production but has been inconsistent, especially down the stretch.

What’s the biggest key for West Virginia if the Mountaineers are going to advance to the second round?

WVU wants to goad you into a rock fight. They want to slow you down and keep the score in the sixties, preferably lower as the Mountaineers have only won twice all season when they allow an opponent to score 65 or points, and never more than 67. If they’re going to advance, it will be because they slowed Arizona down, limited second chance shots, and were able to overcome their own tendency to shoot poorly.

Who’s the player that Arizona should be most worried about and what makes her special?

Can’t say enough about JJ or Madisen. It’s a two headed monster at the point.

Care to give a prediction of how the game will go and a possible final score?

Getting back to the tournament for just the second time since 2017, was a big accomplishment and I worry a little bit if the Mountaineers will be “happy to be there.” The bonus for WVU is probably a mildly jetlagged Arizona team. I think it will start out a bit slow, which bodes well for WVU but I think they come up just short in a close game against a very talented Arizona team. Arizona 70 – WVU 67.