MORGANTOWN — With former West Virginia star Jevon Carter sitting courtside on his personal NBA All-Star break, the WVU women’s basketball team picked up a win that should impress an even more important set of eyes.
The Mountaineers jumped out quickly, then pushed back a late TCU rally to lock down a 79-65 win.
West Virginia (18-6, 9-4 Big 12) remained tied with Iowa State for third place in the Big 12, but the win held even more value in the big picture.
TCU (18-7, 8-6) entered the game ranked No. 35 in the Ratings Percentage Index, while West Virginia was 63rd — a dangerously low position for a team trying to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.
“We need to get our RPI down, so a top-50 win really helps us,” said Mountaineers coach Mike Carey.
Naomi Davenport recorded her sixth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Tynice Martin scored a game-high 21 points, making 6-of-10 from 3-point range. Freshman point guard Madisen Smith helped with 17 points and eight assists.
West Virginia opened a big lead with a 3-point barrage, then ended up needing that cushion as it struggled against TCU’s full-court press late in the second half.
The Mountaineers started 7-of -10 on 3s, bombing their way to a 44-25 halftime lead. West Virginia’s first five field goals were from behind the arc.
“The first few minutes, they really dictated the tempo,” TCU coach Raegan Pebley said.
But Martin suggested WVU came back onto the floor in the second half thinking its work was already done.
“You’re up 19 at half and you come out relaxed,” Martin said. “A team like that, they play hard and they’ll have a chance to come back.”
Come back the Horned Frogs did as West Virginia struggled to get the ball past midcourt for much of the third quarter. TCU’s press forced 17 West Virginia turnovers in the second half after the Mountaineers lost the ball only five times in the first 20 minutes.
“We haven’t worked on press break in about a month, and Lord, did it show,” Carey said.
West Virginia has been down to eight healthy players since senior guard Katrina Pardee sprained her ankle against Oklahoma State. As a result, Carey has had to cut corners in practice. While other teams have unsuccessfully attempted to speed up the tempo on the undermanned Mountaineers, TCU figured out the formula.
“That’s my fault,” Carey said. “We haven’t had time and I don’t want them getting up and down the floor all the time in practice. But everyone else is going to press us from here on out, so we’re going to work on it and get better at it.”
One of the players from West Virginia’s shortened bench squelched the rally after TCU cut the deficit to six points early in the fourth quarter.
Forward Kari Niblack’s only field goal in the game was a layup to extend the WVU lead to 68-60 with 2:28 left. Niblack followed it on the other end with a steal nine seconds later. After Smith hit a 3 on the ensuing possession, TCU was never again within single digits.
“If we can keep her out of foul trouble, she’s going to put up big numbers,” Carey said of Niblack, who had 12 rebounds and three steals in 20 minutes. “There isn’t anybody on the floor who played harder, and I can say that about every game.”