The Times West Virginian

March 3, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU’s tough win over BU was special

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — The biggest victory in the history of West Virginia women’s basketball was also the toughest, and that is what made it so special.

Oh, if they had beaten Baylor 100-30 on Sunday afternoon it would have been special, sure.

It still would have tied them for the Big 12 Conference championship with one game to play, the tiebreaker for the championship being in their corner.

It still would have given them a 26-3 season record and a nine-game winning streak.

Yeah, it would have been special, no matter how it happened, but that it happened the way it did – playing itself out the way the entire season has gone – that turned it into a game for the ages.

They came from behind to win it.

They always do. They were down as many as eight points, never leading until Christal Caldwell canned a 3 to make it 61-58.

Did anyone expect anything less?

So what that Asya Bussie and Bria Holmes were on the bench with four fouls at the moment.

That was just another challenge and this team just loves challenges.

Could there have been a bigger challenge than walking onto the Baylor home court with the conference title at stake on senior day to face a group of seniors that had never lost a conference game on their home court, winning the previous 35 in a row?

This, though, was going to be different, as different as the weather.

Weather? Think we had things strange here in West Virginia? Well, it was 80 degrees in Waco on Saturday and snowing on Sunday.

Talk about omens.

You have to hand it to this hard-nosed – and probably swollen-nosed, in the case of Asya Bussie, who took a shot in her schnoz late in the game – group of young ladies for they truly followed the script coach Mike Carey laid out to perfection.

In fact, it was almost as if Carey had written the script for the game before leaving Morgantown.

He said that the first thing his team had to do was survive the first 8 minutes, that Baylor comes at you hard in the first 8 minutes and buries you then coasts to victory.

He called for his team to “attack”.

They did. First play Bria Holmes went fully out of control toward the basket and got hit with a charging foul … but it was an attacking charge, exactly what they needed.

And yes, Baylor jumped on top.

The Bears scored the first four points and led 6-1, but WVU wasn’t going away.

Survive eight minutes, Carey had demanded, and at the 8-minute mark the score was Baylor 11 and West Virginia 10.

Bodies were flying everywhere. This was two rough and ready teams playing for a championship and they played like it.

In fact, the half ended with Baylor’s star, Odyssey Sims, who would finish with 38 points but also having made the mistake that lost the game on the last of her 10 turnovers forced by a very attentive WVU defense, in the locker room after nearly having her right arm torn from her shoulder.

As expected, she was back for the second half.

If you could breathe, you could play in this one.

WVU did its thing, staying close, chipping away, but then in the final minute on consecutive plays Bussie and Holmes fouled out, Bussie with 21 tough points, five rebounds and two assists and Holmes with 12 points.

WVU needed someone to step up as they knew Sims, who had scored 48 in Morgantown, would get hers.

So why shouldn’t it be senior Christal Caldwell, who had guarded Sims in that Morgantown game and suffered dismally on the offensive side, going scoreless and missing all 11 of her shots.

She hit a 3 to make it 66-65, then followed a Sims basket with a drive off a Bussie pick that gave WVU a 68-67 lead.

Sims made a couple of free throws to put Baylor back in front by a point and it looked over when Holmes was called for an offensive foul, giving the ball to Baylor … and Sims with 35 seconds to play.

Carey set his defense, opted not to foul.

“We knew she’d have the ball and we decided to trap her, make it throw it as far away from her as she could,” Carey explained. “That’s what she did.”

And when she did Averee Fields, an unlikely hero, made the steal, drove the court and scored while being fouled. The basket gave WVU the lead, the foul sent Baylor senior Makenzie Robertson from the game on her senior day. The daughter of Bears’ coach Kim Mulkey left with tears in her eyes.

Fields gave Baylor a chance, missing the free throw, Sims coming down the floor and getting a good look at the basket but missing, Linda Stepney grabbing the rebound and being fouled with 1.4 seconds left.

Stepney made the first free throw but then did the best thing she could – and the easiest, considering WVU hit only 10 of 22 free throws in the game – by missing the second, starting the clock and Baylor had no chance to score.

That set off a wild celebration, one that even made Carey smile.

“You know,” he said, “we’re always the underdog. At halftime people were calling us Virginia and Western Virginia.”

Now, at least in Waco, Texas, they know to call it West Virginia.

And, if the Mountaineers win their final game against Kansas at home Tuesday, they can call them Big 12 champions, too.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel