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6:06pm: Sportsline with Tony Caridi

Mountaineers to welcome Wright State for first game in 8 days

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If Mark Kellogg sports a different look Monday morning inside the WVU Coliseum, it’s nothing more than West Virginia’s first-year women’s basketball coach trying to protect his eardrums.

The Mountaineers welcome Wright State for a 10 a.m. tip on Education Day, with several thousand elementary-aged kids expected to be on hand as West Virginia strives for its 10th victory in as many games.

“It’s always loud. There’s 6,000-plus of those suckers coming into the Coliseum, so may have to get the earplugs out or put on the big Beats or something,” Kellogg said. “I may look a little different for that one, but they do create great energy, so it’s a fun game for us. Our kids will get excited for that.”

The matchup will air on Big Now on ESPN+ and marks the first contest for West Virginia (9-0) since a 64-point win against Delaware State last Sunday. 

After Monday, only one non-league game remains for the Mountaineers — that coming Thursday against Niagara — before they jump into Big 12 Conference play starting December 30 at Kansas.

“When they don’t have a game in sight,  the enthusiasm for practice may not quite be where you want it to be,” Kellogg said. “But it does allow you to work on quite a bit. You’re not preparing for another opponent, so your focus is solely on yourselves. 

“For coaches, the same thing. We can go recruit a little bit or focus in on ourselves. We had an hour long analytic meeting yesterday and looked at just us and our program and where we are nine games in. It lets you focus on some things that when you’re playing somebody all the time you’d otherwise put on the back-burner.”

Jordan Harrison converts a layup. (Photo by Teran Malone)

The Mountaineers have thrived on consistently disrupting opponents throughout the first six weeks of Kellogg’s tenure.

West Virginia forcing more than 25 turnovers on average, while recording nearly 15 steals per game — an asset that can largely be attributed to the defensive prowess of guards JJ Quinerly, Jordan Harrison and Lauren Fields.

“This group is talented at that position. There’s no doubt,” Kellogg said.

The Raiders (6-4) predicate much of their success on their ability to hit from the perimeter. Wright State is shooting better than 35 percent on three-pointers and making 8.3 on average — nearly three more than they allow.

Five Wright State players have at least 11 triples over the team’s first 10 games, led by 18 from Alexis Hutchinson, though her percentage is just north of 30. Cara VanKempen, Layne Ferrell and Lauren Scott follow with 15, 14 and 13 respectively. VanKempen has attempted only 34 treys, while Ferrell has put up 36. Scott has made three more shots from long range than she’s missed.

“This will be a good test and really make us have to defend the three-point line and rebound,” Kellogg said. “Our pressure may turn them over a little bit, but maybe not. If it doesn’t, that’s great, too. We have to learn how to defend the three in the half court.”

The Mountaineers want to be sure to avoid a letdown as they seek to remain unbeaten and fine-tune aspects that Kellogg believes need improvement before the schedule becomes more challenging.

“The human aspect, yeah, we’re thinking about Christmas and being with our families. When we get together, the talk is let’s be where our feet are and get the job done,” said 6-foot-1 forward Tavy Diggs, who has scored in double figures in three of the team’s last four games.

While Diggs has picked up her production of late, 6-3 forward Kylee Blacksten is coming off a season-high 16-point performance on 7-for-9 shooting against Delaware State. It was Blacksten’s first double-digit scoring effort this season and she’d accounted for a total of 12 points in the three previous games.

The inside-outside threat has attempted only 48 field goals in nine games and shooting nearly 44 percent from the field while connecting on 7-of-19 threes to this point.

“She’ll work and she’ll invest and put in the time, so I was really happy she had that night because we need her to play with confidence,” Kellogg said. “She’s a smart, cerebral kid, but don’t call her a post player.”

Quinerly (18.4 points), Harrison (13.1) and Fields (11.3) are the team’s top three scorers and Quinerly and Harrison are both shooting better than 50 percent to this point.

Health permitting, the Mountaineers know they’ll be heavily reliant on each of the three throughout the season and are also counting on wings Kyah Watson and Jayla Hemingway, along with reserve post player Tirzah Moore for steady play and consistent production.

“We have to continue to develop the roles,” Kellogg said. “That’s still not quite all the way defined with all the roles that we have on this team, but they’re starting to get defined a little bit more each time we play.”