MORGANTOWN — Madisen Smith’s NCAA-tournament experience is not extensive.
It lasted all of four minutes, courtesy of a hamstring injury the WVU guard suffered back in 2021.
In a second-round loss against Georgia Tech, former WVU head coach Mike Carey put her in simply so she could say she played in the tournament.
“I was not even halfway healthy,” Smith said recounting the moment. “I just wanted to be able to be out there with my team. It’s the NCAA tournament and who doesn’t want to play in that?”
In the back of her mind, Smith hoped that wouldn’t be it for her.
A year later, WVU declined an invitation to the WNIT, as Carey retired and a number of players left the team and entered the transfer portal.
Not Smith, who said earlier in the season that Morgantown and the university was the right fit for her final season of eligibility.
Enter first-year coach Dawn Plitzuweit, who took to Smith’s devotion and talents right away.
“In Maddie’s scenario, she really started the season in a different role she’s been in the past,” Plitzuweit said. “The challenging part to that — and she did an incredible part of accepting the challenge — when you’re not a young lady that’s the primary scorer, and then you’re asked to become the primary scorer, when that player wants to have that responsibility things can really take off.”
Things have certainly taken off lately for Smith, who will lead the Mountaineers (19-11) into the XFINITY Center in College Park, Md. at noon Friday to face No. 25 Arizona (21-9) in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Her last four games leading up to the NCAAs has seen Smith score at least 20 points or more. She scored a career-high 30 against Baylor to close out the regular season with a sweep of the Bears.
She added 23 more in WVU’s loss against Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“She’s had that mind set from the beginning of the year, which is not always typical of a point guard,” Plitzuweit continued. “That doesn’t always happen that way. To her credit, we needed that out of her and she’s played really well.”
In her final season of eligibility, Smith has made it count.
She averaged 14.3 points per game — a career high — while moving into the top five in school history in career games played and assists.
You will rarely hear Smith brag on those numbers, though. Throughout her career, she’s consistently been a team-first player.
“We have another opportunity and we’re just excited to go out there and show what we can do,” she said.
What the Mountaineers do will depend how well it can handle the length and overall athleticism of the Wildcats.
“They’re really good on both ends of the court,” Plitzuweit said. “They’re efficient offensively and they really attack you. They shoot it well. They’ve got good size and defend at an incredibly high level.”
WVU enters the tournament as the No. 10 seed in the Greenville 1 Region and are an underdog against the seventh-seeded Wildcats.
That’s just fine with Smith, who finally gets to have her NCAA moment completely healthy and ready to go.
“This is my last year, so I just want to go out with a bang,” Smith said. “I want to be able to play hard with my team and give them all I can.”
WVU vs. ARIZONA
WHEN: Noon, Friday
WHERE: XFINITY Center, College Park, Md.
TV: ESPN (Comcast 35, HD 850; DirecTV 206; DISH 140)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM