As the game of basketball continues to open up on the offensive end of the floor — specifically women’s college basketball — more post players are finding themselves in situations where they are relied on as more than just a big body with their back to the basket in the paint for guards to dump the ball in to.
More and more at all levels of the game forwards are being asked to play more like guards and the West Virginia University women’s team is no different. Mountaineer forwards are being asked to shoot and handle the ball more than in the past and two players in particular — sophomore Esmery Martinez and junior Kari Niblack — have excelled in No. 19 WVU’s more open style of play this season for head coach Mike Carey.
West Virginia (15-2, 9-2 Big 12) has won 10 consecutive games heading into Wednesday’s home game against Kansas (7 p.m., ESPN+) thanks in large part to the pair’s solid play over that stretch. Senior guard Kysre Gondrezick has also shined during WVU’s so-far stellar season but the two forwards have been honing new aspects of their game perhaps somewhat out of their comfort zones and seeing positive results.
During the 10-game winning streak, Niblack has scored in double-digits six times. Over that same stretch, Martinez has hit double-figures nine times with six double-doubles. For the season, WVU as a team ranks second in the Big 12 behind only national powerhouse Baylor at 75.9 points per game.
Carey said being able to handle the ball as well as step back and shoot will benefit both Martinez and Niblack not just as Mountaineers but also in the future should they go into the professional ranks.
“You look at Esmery — she’s 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2. Kari, she’s 6-3,” Carey said. “Really, for their career they need to be moved out. I think that’s where the game is going anyway — if you look at the WNBA and the NBA, a lot of their posts are shooting 3s. Even their fives [centers]. We’ve kind of went to more of a spread offense where we have them facing up probably 50 percent of the time. It makes us better when they can shoot the ball out there and when they can put it on the floor.”
Carey said Martinez exclusively worked with guards during individual offseason workouts to get more comfortable in that role. The idea, Carey said, is to eventually have Martinez on the wing as more of a “three” and a big part of that transition will rely on her ability to possess the ball and make shots from the outside.
“We started it this summer as much as we could,” Carey said. “All of her individual workouts were with the guards where she was forced to do a lot more ball handling and shooting 3s. We’ll continue that after the season. We really need to get her to the “three” position — “three”, “four”. That will be the next step for her. She’s a hard worker but she needs to take that next step in order for her to do what she needs to do at the next level.”
Kansas comes into Wednesday’s game having mostly struggled in recent weeks but fresh off a win against TCU. The Jayhawks are led the pair of Holly Kersgeiter (15.7 points per game) and Tina Stephens (11.7 points per game), but are winless way from home so far this season. Carey said he expects KU coach Brandon Schneider to show the Mountaineers a variety of looks on both ends of the floor Wednesday.
“He does a great job with them and they run a lot of great stuff — they run a lot of stuff offensively and they’ll throw a lot of stuff against you defensively. This year they have some players — some young players and some veterans — and they’re coming off a big win against TCU. There is no doubt in my mind they’ll come down here and play extremely hard. “