The Times West Virginian

March 11, 2014

WVU loses close battle to Baylor, 74-71

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s dream of a Big 12 Tournament championship did not come true, but it wasn’t because they didn’t play like champions.

  In a game that was all sweat and bruises, a battle of heart and wills, Baylor superstar Odyssey Sims, shaking of a dismal performance for the entire tournament, hit the winning shot, a short jumper to give Baylor the lead for the last time in a 74-71 win that would stand up when Linda Stepney’s rushed 3-point shot at the buzzer hit off the back iron.

With that miss WVU’s dream of winning its first Big 12 title and its first any kind of title since taking the Atlantic 10 in 1989 ended, along with, for now, a chance to record its first 30-win season.

Sims’ winning shot allowed her to finish with 19 points, far below her average and making it four straight games below 20 points, but it gave Baylor another conference title. The Bears, the No. 1 seed, continued the trend that has seen no No. 2 seed ever upset the No. 1 seed in the finals of the Big 12 Tournament.

Sims and Nina Davis, who hit 8 of 11 shots and scored 19 points, were named to the All-Tournament team, while while Bria Holmes and Asya Bussie were put on the team for WVU.

Bussie had a difficult game, finishing with 6 points and 6 rebounds.

“We took some bad shots we normally don’t take. They did a great job sagging in on Bussie. I felt she’d get tired today with people hitting on her, banging on her, shoving her for three days,” coach Mike Carey said.

It was a tense game ever since the Mountaineers began chipping away at an early 11-point Baylor lead, staying in the game because Holmes scored 19 of her 24 points in the first half, waiting for help to arrive. No other WVU starter scored until there were just four minutes left in the half.

That was what Carey was hoping for, to be around at the 4-minute mark because his team has come alive there through most of the season.

This time it didn’t work out.

“We had a one-point lead with a minute to go and didn’t execute,” Carey said.

Baylor Coach Kim Mulkey was extremely emotional at the end.

“I am emotional because I’ve got a bunch of babies over there,” she said of a team that is heavy with freshmen. “We just beat a West Virginia team with five seniors over there. That’s not supposed to happen.”

But happen it did.

It was a typical West Virginia first half, which meant, quite naturally, it fell behind.

That’s been the m.o. all year, with Carey now preaching that he only wants to be close in the final four minutes of the game. If there, he feels confident that his Comeback Kids will find a way to win the game.

Well, they fell behind by 11 in the first half, playing just terrible basketball … except for the fact they had Holmes on their side.

The Mountaineers made just four baskets in the half, taking 18 shots ... other than Holmes.

Holmes made 7-of-9, sinking 3-of-4 from 3 points, and then scoring just before the half on a steal to make the halftime score a manageable 38-32 in favor of Baylor.

Now for the bad news. The Bears built the lead with their star Odyssey Sims playing worse than the Mountaineer players.

Sims had been the nation’s leading scorer and when she scored 38 against WVU in their showdown in Waco, that coming on the heels of a 49-point performance in Morgantown, it seemed as if she were Superwoman.

But then something strange happened. She scored 11 points in the next game, 15 and 17 in the first two Big 12 Tournament games, going 6-for-22 and 6-for-17 in the two games. Amazingly, she had not yet hit a 3-point shot in the tournament, going 0-for-9 from 3.

Things got no better for Sims as this game started. She missed her first shot, missed her second, turning the ball over the third time she had it, then tripped and hurt her ankle, forcing her to the bench.

She would return, the ankle re-taped and showing no sign of a limp, but she still was completely lost.

She was sent to the bench on numerous occasions by Mulkey, playing just 10 minutes in the half, making only one shot in 3 tries with three turnovers, putting up only 4 points to her credit.

On the WVU side it was Christal Caldwell and Asya Bussie having the first-half blues, Caldwell not scoring and missing all three of her shots while committing three turnovers and Bussie scoring one point, getting off only one shot and turning the ball over 3 times.

It was hardly the way Bussie wanted to celebrate her school record 136th career appearance, all of the starts.

As usual, Carey got his team’s attention in the second half. Caldwell got involved, scoring four points, and the Mountaineers slowly worked their way back into the game, eventually tying the score at 49-49

From there it was played the way a championship game is supposed to be played, both teams going at each other without giving anything away.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.