MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — First, it was Kylee Blacksten. Then it was Jayla Hemingway.
An already shorthanded West Virginia (15-8, 6-6 Big 12) team had two starters go down with lower-body injuries Saturday evening in a 13-point win over No. 21 Iowa State.
Both Blacksten and Hemingway left the Coliseum after the game with a boot covering their foot and lower leg.
Blacksten, who went down with an injury in the third quarter, returned to the bench but did not re-enter the contest. Hemingway then got hurt in the fourth quarter. She was back on the bench to see her team knock off the nationally-ranked Cyclones, but was aided by crutches as she went through the post-game handshake line and sang Country Roads.
“Obviously, Jayla’s now in a boot … we’ll see what happens with that,” said Dawn Plitzuweit. “Kylee went down. So, tough, tough stretch.”
Those injuries occurred to two of Plitzuweit’s starters, and the first-year head coach was already without one of her key role players, Savanah Samuel, who was sidelined with an undisclosed injury.
With 20.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game no longer at her disposal, and starting guard Madisen Smith in foul trouble, Coach P had no choice but to ask the rest of her roster to step up. And step up they did.
“I think we tried to remind each other that, like, we’re still in this game no matter who’s on the floor and who’s not on the floor,” said redshirt sophomore guard Kyah Watson. “I think everybody that played today did a really good job of coming in and bringing that energy.”
Watson tallied the first double-double of her WVU career, with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow redshirt sophomore Isis Beh played a season-high 16 minutes off the bench, and netted nine points – the most she’s scored in a single game in more than three years. Fifth-year senior guard Danni Nichols added seven points, and hit one of the biggest shots of the game – a corner 3-pointer as time expired in the third quarter to push West Virginia’s lead to eight.
“That was a really big shot,” said Plitzuweit. “I thought that was a momentum swing for us.”
The Mountaineers didn’t lead by fewer than eight points at any moment in the fourth quarter. The trio of Beh, Nichols, and Watson tallied 12 of West Virginia’s 17 fourth-quarter points.
“I thought the young ladies who stepped in played great, and gave us great minutes, and made big plays,” Plitzuweit said, adding that getting stops was the biggest key to holding onto the lead after the two injuries occurred. WVU did that, holding Iowa State to just 25 points in the second half.
Watson said her focus on crashing the boards intensified once seeing Blacksten and Hemingway exit with injuries. She added that that focus was team-wide with two of its best rebounders unavailable.
West Virginia will be back on the court Wednesday, at home, against Kansas. A dominant second half led the Jayhawks to a 19-point win over the Mountaineers when the two squads met in Lawrence, Kansas. Blacksten, Hemingway, and Samuel combined for 27 points and 10 rebounds in the contest.
It remains to be seen if any of the three will be available Wednesday night.
“Obviously, it is very sad that both Kylee and Jayla are kind of injured right now, more so Jayla,” said Watson. “They were excited in the locker room. They played for most of the game. So, yeah, just hoping they get recovered and get back on the court as quick as they can.”