By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This was a day when the team that won’t lose, couldn’t lose.
True to form, West Virginia fell behind TCU early, did it as only they can, by missing 12 of their first 13 shots to find themselves down by 13 points in the first half.
But they have done that all year on their way to what now is a 22-3 record and No. 13 ranking after pulling out a hard-fought 61-57 victory.
Might say, considering the way it happened, that it was just another miracle on a day dedicated to miracles.
Miracle? Well, Cristal Caldwell, who spent most of the day frustrated as shot after shot went clang in the afternoon, suddenly threw down two key 3s, the first breaking a 44-44 tie and the second stretching the lead to 52-47, a lead that would be threatened but never given up.
And why would it never be given up? More miracles, these from Linda Stepney, who is on the court to do anything but score. Yet there she was, the game on the line, first challenging 6-6 Klara Bradshaw and somehow going over her for a score, then driving crazily into the lane, being banged around and knocked almost into the first row of seats as an impossible underhanded, scoop layup went in, that one making a 56-55 lead into a 58-55 lead.
Oh, and then there was just before that, with WVU leading, 54-53, center Asya Bussie finding Cristal Caldwell open under the basket for another easy score.
Bussie, by the way, is the team’s center, was its leading scorer with 16 points on this day, also its leading rebounder with 8 and, yes, led in assists.
Yeah, there were miracles, but then that’s because this was a day about miracles, about the fight to beat cancer. It was Play4Kay day and talk about support, 6,161 fans came out — could have been a lot more if the students would discover this fun women’s team and start coming to the games.
Cancer may not have been beaten on this day, but TCU was and in the midst of it all were Caldwell, Stepney and Bussie.
Caldwell finished with 14 points and made 5 of 15 shots, but at the half was 2 for 7 and was 2 for 11 when she made the 3 that broke the 44-44 tie.
“You have to tell yourself you are going to eventually hit one,” she explained. “If you don’t take the next open shot, you can’t hit.”
Then there was Stepney.
A year ago she never ever would have even considered either drive to the basket, let alone gone all the way through and made those shots.
“She’s grown a lot as a player,” Caldwell said.
“I think she has a little more maturity and experience,” added Bussie. “Teams last year would play off of her. They played like she wasn’t even on the court.”
But there you had it, when WVU needed it most Caldwell and Stepney took charge.
“Christal stepped up and hit a couple of 3s and Linda hit really tough layups. We needed those points. That’s 10 points right there,” said Coach Mike Carey.
But in the end, as it so often does with this team, it comes down to Bussie.
Sometimes you can’t even tell her contribution by the numbers, for teams often double- and triple-team her, making life easier for everyone else.
But then there’s days like this when she has to score 16 points on 5 of 8 shooting and 6 of 8 from the free throw line, grab off 8 rebounds, block three shots, make three steals and add four assists.
“Asya Bussie is one of the most unselfish player I’ve ever coached,” Carey said.
Here she is, looking for all-Big 12 honors, maybe even All-American, but she is selflessly passing up shots to give others points.
“I’ve always been a team player,” she said. “That’s the way you get wins. You can’t put yourself first. We needed baskets.”
And the Mountaineers got them.
Now they play a key game on Wednesday in their battle for the Big 12 title as Oklahoma State, just behind them in the standings, comes to the Coliseum for a 7 p.m. game, looking to avenge a hard-fought four-point home loss to the Mountaineers earlier in the season.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel