|Senior guard Christal Caldwell drives to the basket against Baylor during the Mountaineers' loss in the Big 12 Championship game.
|Big 12 Conference photo
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – A back-and-forth ending saw eight lead changes in the final six minutes, but an Odyssey Sims’ jumper with 53 seconds left gave No. 7, and top-seeded, Baylor its final lead and the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship title, as the No. 5 West Virginia women’s basketball team fell 74-71.
“First of all, congratulations to Baylor. We wish them a lot of luck in the NCAAs,” said coach Mike Carey. “Second of all, our girls played extremely hard. We had a one-point lead with a minute to go and just didn't execute, and then we went down to the other side and then didn't score, and then came down to the other side and didn't execute again.
“But both teams played extremely hard. There were runs. We were up five at one time in the second half, so there were runs both ways.”
The Mountaineers (29-4) held a one-point lead with 54 seconds remaining, 69-68, but Baylor used a jumper and a pair of free throws to pull out to a three-point lead, 72-69, with 19 seconds left. With time winding down, Linda Stepney
drove to the basket for two points with five seconds left. On the following possession a foul was called with four seconds left to send BU’s Niya Johnson to the free throw line, of which she converted both attempts. About 30 feet from the hoop, Stepney made one final attempt to heave the ball in, but it fell off the mark at the buzzer.
The Lady Bears (29-4) earned their fourth consecutive Big 12 Championship title.
“Overall, I told the players, remember how this feels because the next time, going down the stretch, we've got to execute,” Carey said. “We normally have executed well going down the stretch. Today, we had a couple shots, missed them, and then, defensively, is where I was really disappointed; we didn't execute and get some stops.”
Sophomore guard Bria Holmes
rattled off 12 consecutive points to start the game, and put WVU on the board. Baylor pulled away for its largest lead, 36-25, with 1:38 until halftime until Holmes hit a three and sparked a 7-2 run. The Mountaineers trailed 38-32 at the break.
Out of halftime, a Stepney layup brought WVU within four points and Baylor stretched its lead to six points four times before an Asya Bussie
layup tied the teams at 46 apiece with 14:20 left. The Mountaineers tied the game twice more before taking a 63-62 lead for the first time since the opening minutes, and 4:50 to play. The lead went back and forth without either team pulling away by more than two until Johnson sunk her free throw attempts with 19 seconds remaining.
Holmes finished with a game-leading 24 points, 19 from the first half, with four threes, while junior forward Averee Fields
and junior guard Linda Stepney
added 10 points each. All 10 of Fields’ points came in the closing half. Senior Taylor Palmer
was held to seven points off the bench, while Caldwell and Bussie each recorded six points.
The Mountaineers shot 43.6 percent from the field (24-55), 38.5 percent (5-13) from 3-point range and 75 percent (18-24) from the free throw line, while Baylor made 47.5 percent (28-59) of its shots, only 16.7 percent (2-12) from 3-point range and 76.2 percent (16-21) from the charity stripe.
Bussie and Holmes were both named to the Big 12 All-Tournament team for their efforts.
Baylor outrebounded WVU, 35-17, including a 14-12 advantage on the offensive boards, and forced one more turnover 16-15. Bussie and Holmes pulled down six rebounds each to co-lead in rebounding for WVU, while Sune Agbuke added 10 rebounds for Baylor.
The Lady Bears were led in scoring by Sims and Johnson with 19 points apiece, while Nina Davis added 16 points.
The Mountaineers await the NCAA Tournament seeding, which will be announced live on Monday, March 17 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. WVU is looking for its fifth consecutive NCAA appearance and 10th postseason appearance in 11 seasons.