By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sometimes a sporting event has more meaning than shows on the surface, and today’s 1 p.m. women’s basketball game between the No. 13-ranked West Virginia University women’s basketball team and TCU at the Coliseum is one of them.
The obvious relevance is in the Mountaineers’ drive for a Big 12 regular-season title, standing a game behind Baylor at 10-2, and seeding for post-season play.
But under the surface there is a far more meaningful significance to the game, which is being designated as a Play4Kay game presented by WVU Healthcare.
Fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness with the first 5,000 fans at the Coliseum receiving pink rally towels courtesy of WVU Healthcare. Also, the first 2,000 fans will get pink glowsticks from Coke Zero, and Coke Zero will donate $1 to the Betty Puskar Breast Care Center for every Coca-Cola bottled product purchased during the game, up to a $2,500 donation.
Gates are open at noon. For a free printable ticket, visit WVUsports.com/pink.
As for the on-court doings, the Mountaineers are riding a four-game win streak and being led by sophomore Bria Holmes, who has grown into a star as she’s led WVU in scoring in each of the past two games, setting a career-high with 31 against Kansas State then coming back to score 19 in a one-point victory over Oklahoma which they won on an Averee Fields jumper with 13 seconds left and then a free throw by Taylor Palmer.
West Virginia had trailed by 14 points during the game but being behind has not bothered the Mountaineers at all this season as they have made it a habit to rally.
WVU has come from behind to get a victory in the final eight minutes or less in five conference games, including the Oklahoma comeback.
When WVU beat TCU in their first meeting of the year they erased a six-point deficit with 7:50 left by taking control on a 16-2 run, Taylor Palmer keying that by scoring all 14 of her points in the final 6:35.
The ability to win close games late may have grown out of upsetting No. 2 Notre Dame on its home floor a couple of years back when Brooke Hampton, who now is out after knee surgery, made a couple of free throws.
Fields, for example, whose late jumper helped beat Oklahoma, certainly lists that game as one of her greatest thrills at WVU.
“The Notre Dame game was one of my top memories because it was exciting and they hadn’t lost there I a long time and last year we played Iowa State away and it was a close game,” she said. “In the huddle, Coach (Mike) Carey said ‘OK, Averee, you’re going to hit the winning basket.’
“In high school I was a go-to player. I used to hit those shots. But in college, that had never been my role. It was up to me and I hit the basket.”
And that’s how it’s been for most of the roster, which thrives on those moments.
“Having five seniors makes a different. When a senior like Asya Bussie gets in trouble, we have players with experience who can step up and make a difference. I feel like we’re mature,” said Crystal Leary.
The Horned Frogs, 14-10 and 5-7, are led in scoring by Zahna Medley with 16.2 points per game. Medley leads TCU with 50 threes made, has dished out the most assists (92) and grabbed 34 steals. The guard is sent to the free-throw line the most (94 attempts) and has recorded 77 free throws, shooting 81.9 percent from the charity stripe.
Natalie Ventress is TCU’s second-leading scorer with 11.4 points per game and holds the highest free-throw percentage for the Horned Frogs, making 82.1 percent (32-39). Ventress is also TCU’s second-leading rebounder with 4.6 boards per game. Behind Medley, Ventress has made 34 threes and Donielle Breaux adds another 22 threes this season.
Latricia Lovings leads TCU’s rebounding efforts with 8.0 rebounds per game. In their last game at Kansas, Medley had a 20-point outing, while Chelsea Prince and Ventress each chipped in 10 points, but the Horned Frogs only shot 29.4 percent (20-60) from the field, and were limited to only three 3-pointers. As a team, TCU averages 64.0 points, 38.3 rebounds and 14.7 free throws per game.
Sunday’s game will air live with the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG online at WVUsports.com, with Jeff Culhane and Meg Bulger on the call. In Morgantown the game will air live on 100.9 WSZT-FM, in Cumberland, Md., on WCBC-AM 1270, in Parkersburg on WADC-AM 1050 and in Charleston on WSCW-AM 1410 and WJYP-AM 1300.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel