MORGANTOWN — The opportunity came early in the third quarter when Arizona’s top player, Shaina Pellington, was whistled for her fourth foul.
West Virginia — making its first NCAA tournament appearance under first-year head coach Dawn Plitzuweit — trailed 42-39 at the time.
Pellington sat for the next 13 minutes, but the No. 25 Wildcats didn’t miss her.
Rather than panic, Arizona showed plenty of poise Friday in picking up a 75-62 first-round victory over the Mountaineers at the XFINITY Center in College Park, Md., to move on to the Round of 32 for the third-consecutive season.
“I thought we did a really good job of sticking to the game plan and found a way to win,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but the players did what I asked them to do. So, just really proud of them.”
Without Pellington, the Wildcats (22-9) simply went inside to forwards Cate Reese and Esmery Martinez, and both responded with great performances.
Reese poured in 25 points and Martinez, who played three seasons at WVU before transferring this season, added a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“For me, it wasn’t too weird,” WVU guard J.J. Quinerly said. “I only played with her for a year. I mean, I’m cool with her. We was laughing and joking on the court.”
By the time Pellington came back into the game with 4:50 remaining, Arizona’s lead had grown to 68-57. Pellington then sealed it with two drives to the basket that helped her finish with 18 points in just 20 minutes.
“I think we were back on our heels at that point in time,” Plitzuweit said. “So then when we made some adjustments, I thought we were a little bit better. But then their post kids got going.”
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers (19-12) — making their first NCAA appearance since 2021, couldn’t generate enough offense outside of Quinerly to keep pace.
She scored 12 of her 19 points in the third quarter, but then she was held scoreless in the fourth. She also had eight rebounds.
Madisen Smith, a fifth-year senior who had averaged 23.8 points over her last four games, was held to just 2 of 14 shooting and seven points in her final college game.
Smith concluded her career as WVU’s all-time leader in minutes played with 4,614, but the 35 she played against the Wildcats were simply frustrating.
“Madi has taught me a lot over the years, from my freshman year,” Quinerly said. “It is great having her out there. I don’t know, she makes it peaceful.”
After falling behind early, the Mountaineers clawed back into the game. They trailed 40-33 at the half and got to within 42-39 with 7:44 left in the third quarter, when Pellington picked up her fourth foul.
After keeping it at a one- or two-possession game for a few minutes, Reese and Martinez simply took over and WVU had no answers for its lack of size inside.
The Wildcats scored 40 points in the paint and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.
“Again, I think we tried to control what we could control,” Plitzuweit said. “We tried to battle. Every time we seemed to try to make an adjustment, they seemed to have an answer for it that was effective, too.
“They’re obviously a very, very good basketball team. I thought our young ladies competed and tried to put ourselves in position, but it wasn’t good enough today.”
Reese, a former McDonald’s All-America coming out of Cypress Woods (Texas) High School, scored 17 of her 25 points in the second half, making 10 of 19 shots overall.
Kyah Watson added 15 points and eight rebounds for WVU and Jayla Hemingway added 11, with eight of those coming in the first quarter.