By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A year ago, when Baylor’s women’s team came into the Coliseum, it was the basketball event of the year.
Featuring one of the greatest women’s players of all time in Brittney Griner, ranked No. 1 in the nation, undefeated for two years in Big 12 play and possessing a 28-1 record at the time, a record crowd of 13,447 fans jammed their way into the Coliseum.
Griner and Baylor did not disappoint, winning 80-49 with Griner scoring 28, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking 10 shots for a triple double.
Well, guess who’s coming to dinner at 7 tonight at the Coliseum.
It’s Baylor again, minus Griner but not lacking in star power. Winners of 12 of 13 games (all it took to beat Baylor was 133 points in a quadruple-overtime 133-130 loss to No. 5/6 Kentucky) and ranked No. 7/9 in the country, the Bears offer Odyssey Sims for your watching pleasure.
Sims, now free of the huge shadow cast by Griner, has taken it upon herself to see that there is no dropoff.
All she is doing is leading the nation in scoring, averaging 30.8 points a game.
“Last year she averaged 12 a game. Now she averages 30,” said WVU coach Mike Carey, who says that Sims presents more problems defending than did Griner.
“A post player is easier to defend,” Carey said. “She’s down on the blocks, so you know where she’ll be. A guard, she is everywhere. They run sets to get her free.”
The problem she presents is that you can’t over rotate to her because Baylor a cast of big-time supporting players.
“If the center comes over to help, it leaves the big guys open,” Carey noted.
That can give them easy shots or a clean run at offensive rebounds.
“Sims is the key to their offensive rebounding,” Carey said.
And Baylor averages 20 offensive rebounds a game.
It’s a big chore for West Virginia, but one that it should be ready for, coming off a two-game road trip in which it not only opened the Big 12 season with a victory at Kansas, but then went into Stillwater, Okla., spotted the No. 11 Cowboys a 12-point lead then roared from behind to score a 71-67 upset victory.
That’s two road wins for a 2-0 start in conference play, now back home for what could be a game that propels the Mountaineers into the Top 25 rankings. In fact, their exclusion despite the upset and a 13-game winning streak has them a bit perturbed, but they realize it’s a long season and if they keep winning they can’t be snubbed.
Besides … “we like being the underdog,” Bria Holmes said.
The Oklahoma State upset, though, gives a team that was unsure if it belonged in the upper echelons of college basketball a reason to believe.
“It was big,” Carey said. “Any time you beat Oklahoma State at their place, it’s big. They don’t lose a lot of games there.”
Coming home 2-0 was the goal Carey had set for his team.
Bria Holmes, flourishing as a sophomore, led the Mountaineers with 21 points, her second career 20-point effort as she strives to reach her potential.
“Bria does not understand how good she can be,” Carey said. “If she keeps doing what she needs to do, she will be a special, special player.”
In the end, though, it is going to come down to how the Mountaineers handle Sims, who last year scored 10 and 15 points against them with a combined 12 assists in the two games and how they fare in the battle on the boards.
“I hope we get a great crowd,” Carey said, knowing 13,447 might be out of the question, even though he promises it will be warm inside the Coliseum. “We want the same atmosphere in here as they have at the other schools in this league.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.