This women’s basketball season has not gone the way West Virginia had hoped.
Expectations for Mike Carey’s side were high considering it made the NCAA Tournament last season and opened this year ranked 19th in the AP Top 25 preseason poll.
The Mountaineers struggled at times, but won three of their last four games to finish the regular season at .500 with a 14-14 record.
It wasn’t always easy, and on Monday, a select group of Mountaineers were honored by the Big 12 for their efforts. In all, five members of the WVU women’s basketball team made All-Big 12 teams.
Leading the way was junior forward Esmery Martinez, who was named to the All-Big 12 second team. Next up was rookie guard JJ Quinerly, who made the conference’s All-Freshman Team.
Joining them for All-Big 12 honors were Madisen Smith, Kari Niblack and KK Deans, who each earned honorable mention nods.
The five selections are tied for the most all-conference honors in a single season for the Mountaineers.
Martinez led West Virginia in rebounding this year with 8.8 per-game. She also averaged 11.1 points per-game. The 6-foot-2 native of the Dominican Republic also saw her three-point shooting percentage improve this season from 25% to 38.6%.
According to HerHoopStats, Martinez had the ninth-best defensive rating in the Big 12 with an 85.1 mark. Martinez’s best game of the season was a Jan. 19 outing at Oklahoma, where she tallied 10 rebounds, five steals, two assists, two blocks and 26 points on 11 of 21 shooting.
Tabbed as a three-star recruit by ESPN in the class of 2021, Quinerly quickly established herself as a key piece for the Mountaineers this season and going forward. The 5-foot-8 guard from Norfolk, Virginia averaged 8.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.1 steals per-game – the latter of which led the team.
According to HerHoopStats, Quinerly was one of just eight freshmen this season to average at least 8-2-2-2 in those stat categories. Of that group, she had the best three-point shooting percentage at 37.8%. The versatile guard had an impressive outing against Kansas on Feb. 9, dropping 22 points and five rebounds. Quinerly is the fourth Mountaineer to be named All-Freshmen by the Big 12.
Niblack averaged 7.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per-game this season. Her 192 career blocks are fourth all-time in program history. Niblack suffered an injury in WVU’s regular season finale vs. Iowa State. It’s unclear if she’ll be ready to go for the Big 12 Tournament.
Smith averaged nine points, 2.4 rebounds and a team-leading 4.2 assists this year.
Deans went down with a season-ending knee injury in January, but was averaging a career-best 14.5 points per-game.
While Smith and Niblack are both seniors, they both are eligible for a fifth season next year due to the NCAA’s ruling which made it that the 2020-21 season didn’t count toward a player’s eligibility.
West Virginia now turns its focus to the Big 12 Tournament, which begins Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri. The Mountaineers face 10th-seeded TCU at 9 p.m. EST.
Asked after the loss to Iowa State if he likes where his team is at, Cary said: “Yea, if we can get Kari back, yea. I do. The effort it there. The heart is there. I like that. As always, it’s going to come down to hitting open shots.”
Barring a wildly improbable run in Kansas City, the Mountaineers will not play in the NCAA Tournament this season. However, they would be eligible for the WNIT. West Virginia has played well in that tournament in recent years under Carey, making the championship game in 2015 and the semifinals in 2018.