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Kysre Gondrezick Leads WVU Past Lehigh in NCAA Women’s Tournament

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West Virginia’s women’s basketball team had to follow an easier-said-than-done recipe to get a victory Sunday in the NCAA tournament. The No. 4 Mountaineers needed to win the rebounding battle, they needed to limit their fouls and – against the sharp-shooting 13th-seeded Lehigh – they needed to be stout in defending along the perimeter.

Mike Carey’s side checked all of those boxes in the evening contest at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, handily beating the Mountain Hawks 77-53.

For West Virginia, the win marks its first NCAA women’s basketball tournament victory since 2017. The Mountaineers are now 9-10 all-time in the tournament under Carey, now in his 20th season with the program.

WVU (22-6; 13-5 Big 12) got exceptional production from its usual stars, Kysre Gondrezick and Esmery Martinez. Gondrezick – named an All-American honorable mention by the Associated Press – led all scorers in the game with 26 points and also chipped in seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. Martinez notched her 15th double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and also had three assists and two steals.

“It was just a good game for us to kind of get the kinks out; we’ve been off for a week,” Gondrezick said. “We just had to our honor our assignment, honor the scout, and I think that we did that. Especially against a team like Lehigh, it was good for us to defend (a team with) kind of a Princeton offense set. In the tournament, you’re going to run against teams who will run all different types of things. And I think that’s probably one of the hardest offenses to guard.”

The Mountaineers also got an impressive outing from Kirsten Deans, who stuffed the box score with 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Coming into this first-round bout, Lehigh (10-6; 7-5 Patriot League) was regarded as one of the top teams in the country in making shots from behind the arc. They shot 34.3% from deep as a team and were sixth in the nation in three-pointers made per-game this season with 9.8.

The Mountain Hawks nearly hit their average shooting percentage Sunday, finishing with a 33.3% mark from deep, but the Mountaineers made them work for it. Lehigh fired up 30 three-pointers and sank 10 of them.

“They’re a scrappy bunch. They run a good offense,” Carey said of Lehigh. “They do a good job of moving the ball. So, give them a lot of credit.”

But where West Virginia was perhaps more effective in their defense was limiting makes inside the arc for Lehigh. On all two-point field goals, Lehigh shot just 9-of-32 from the floor, an 28.1% clip. And the Mountaineers defended hard inside without fouling, sending Lehigh to the free throw line just six times. West Virginia committed only nine personal fouls.

“I thought we did a good job cutting down the drives. In transition, they got some wide-open three’s against us,” Carey said. “We should have done a lot better defensively. We gave them some wide-open looks… We started getting them to take some bad shots and which led to us having some break fast break opportunities.”

West Virginia started out sluggish, missing its first three shots and allowing Lehigh to take a 2-0 lead. But after Martinez sank a lay-up, the Mountain Hawks never seized the lead again.

After Lehigh briefly tied the score at 26-26 with 3:52 to play in the second quarter – thanks to a mid-range jumper from Frannie Hottinger, who finished with 12 points – the Mountaineers broke off a 10-0 run to end the half, putting a double-digit cushion between themselves and the Mountain Hawks.

By the end of the third quarter, West Virginia had increased its lead to 26 points. In the final five minutes of the period, the Mountaineers embarked on an 18-3, powered by nine points, two rebounds and an assist from Gondrezick.

“I was just taking what the game was giving to me,” Gondrezick said. “I think that’s when we play our best, when we play within our offense. Luckily, it was just in my favor in that quarter and I was just glad that I was able to contribute to help my teammates during that time.”

West Virginia coasted to the finish in the fourth quarter, scoring just 12 points. Sunday marked Lehigh’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010.

As good as the Mountaineers were on defense, they were sharp on offense too, making 54.5% of their shots from the floor, 53.3% of their three-pointers, and 81.8% of their charity stripe attempts. WVU also won the rebounding battle, 40-30.

Next up for Carey’s side is a game against fifth-seeded Georgia Tech on Tuesday. Despite trailing by as much as 17 points, the Yellow Jackets of the ACC survived an hard-fought upset bid from Southland champs Stephen F. Austin. Led by Lorela Cubaj’s 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks, Georgia Tech won 54-52 in overtime on Sunday.

The winner between the Mountaineers and the Yellow Jackets will advance to the Sweet 16, a stage that West Virginia hasn’t been on since 1992.

“We got a tough game coming up against Georgia Tech,” Carey said. “We need everybody to be in rhythm for that Georgia Tech game.”

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