The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

January 4, 2014

Stepney brushes off Kansas as team eyes Big 12 title run

MORGANTOWN — As Linda Stepney sat on the West Virginia University bench through all but five minutes of the first half of Thursday night’s Big 12 opening game in historic Allen Fieldhouse on the Kansas campus in Lawrence, the point guard felt as though she was letting down her coaches and teammates who had worked so hard to create a team that was supposed to contend for a conference title.

While on the floor, WVU had built a 10-point lead at 13-3, but she had somehow managed to collect a pair of fouls that forced Mike Carey to sit her down.

And as she sat, Kansas had chipped away at the lead, walking off the court at halftime leading, 28-27.

“The first half I got in foul trouble, and I felt like I didn’t do enough to help my team,” she said after coming off the bench to join center Asya Bussie in leading WVU to a 75-65 victory, the Mountaineers 12th in a row.

“I felt in the second half I’d come out and take more shots because my man was sagging on Asya, as usual. I just took it upon myself to get to the basket.”

Stepney’s aggressive play, both on the offensive side of the ball and as the front person in the 1-2-2 zone Carey went to, completely changed the complexion of the game as WVU ran off 16 consecutive points, holding KU without a basket for seven-and-a-half minutes to take control of the game.

“Linda started attacking changed things,” Carey explained. “Us changing up to 1-2-2 got them off balance and kept them out of the paint.”

Stepney’s numbers were not eye popping, seven points, four rebounds and three assists, but what she added was a jolt of energy, and it was that energy that altered the ebb and flow of the game. Coming on the road, it allowed WVU to get to feeling right at home, for that is how they like to play.

It was Stepney who got the 16-0 run started.

Kansas had just made a traditional 3-point play to widen its lead to 46-41 with things going in the wrong direction for the Mountaineers until Stepney penetrated and was fouled, making two free throws.

The defense, which had harassed KU into two five-second calls during the evening, now came up with a steal by Taylor Palmer, which led to some bad inside shooting but Bussie grabbed off consecutive offensive rebounds, Stepney eventually getting a drive to the hoop on the possession and basket to draw WVU to within a point.

The offensive rebound had been key all night, but now WVU completely was dominating the boards, finishing with a 47-28 overall edge on the boards, 23 coming at the offensive end.

For the night, WVU held a 20-2 edge in second-chance points.

At the 9:04 mark, Christal Caldwell hit a jumper to put WVU in front for good, 47-46, and then the Mountaineers turned up the steam and Kansas was clearly rattled.

Bussie blocked another shot; Stepney made a steal; Dakota Gonzalez threw the ball away, one of 19 KU turnovers; and Stepney grabbed off an offensive rebound and scored with a foul.

The game was over, and it came about because of Stepney’s ability to take the ball at the basket.

“If the middle is open, I have to penetrate and get my shooters wide open if they sag on me. If the lane is open for me, I have to take my shots,” she said.

Bussie’s contribution can’t be overlooked, either, as she recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to go with three timely blocks.

West Virginia didn’t have long to enjoy the first victory, traveling to Stillwater, Okla., on Friday to begin preparations for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against No. 11/13 Oklahoma State, a key game in a season that is just under way for a team with national intentions.

“Now we go play a Top 15 team on its home court. It’s a tough game,” Carey said. “They are very physical, big and athletic and have a great point guard.”

Oklahoma State is 12-0 for the season, nine of the victories coming at home. The Cowboys are second in scoring in the Big 12 at 83.2 points a game and lead the conference in defense, allowing three less points a game than any other team at 51.6.

Tiffany Bias is the point guard, and she leads the conference in assists, averaging 7.7 per game, while Bussie figures to have a down-low battle with OSU’s Liz Donohoe, who is seventh in the Big 12 in scoring at 16.7 a game, ninth in rebounding at 7.7 a game and leads the conference in free-throw shooting at 89.5 percent.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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