By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian
Oh, so close, but just not quite good enough.
That was the West Virginia University women’s 74-71 loss to defending champion Baylor in the Big 12 Conference Tournament final Monday night at Oklahoma City.
The second-seeded Mountaineers (29-4), ranked No. 5 in the nation, rallied from an 11-point deficit to battle the Lady Bears (29-4) toe-to-toe down the stretch.
Baylor’s Niya Johnson made four free throws in the final 21.1 seconds to seal the verdict for Baylor, ranked No. 8 nationally.
Johnson’s final pair of free throws came with only 4.1 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Mountaineers had an opportunity to tie.
But Linda Stepney’s 3-point shot bounced off the basket rim at the buzzer.
The tough loss to the perennial power with which they share the conference’s regular-season title snapped the Mountaineers’ 12-game winning streak.
This is the Lady Bears’ sixth Big 12 tourney championship since 2005, so it’s obviously become a habit for that school. WVU’s only tourney title in women’s basketball history came in the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1989.
Bria Holmes led West Virginia in scoring with a game-high 24 points — 19 of those in the first half when her team trailed by 38-32.
Stepney and Averee Fields tallied 10 points each in support.
Baylor had two scorers with 19 points apiece.
With 29 victories, WVU has tied the school record going into the NCAA women’s tournament yet to be formed. The previous high number of wins was posed in 2009-10, again under coach Mike Carey’s leadership.
That team, then a member of the Big East, finished with a 29-6 record and second-place finish in the league.
Carey, the Big 12 Coach of the Year, will tell you, however, that the Big 12 is “the strongest conference I ever coached in.”
No one has ever done a better job for WVU in his role.
Clara Grandt Santucci, a three-time All-America distance-running champion at West Virginia University, has received another distinguished honor.
She is one of just five female Americans invited to represent the United States and compete in the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Five of the country’s most successful male professional marathon runners also have been invited to take part in that race Saturday, March 29.
The women’s race will begin at 6:30 a.m. EST.
The event sponsors did not reveal online whether the women’s competition will be televised in the U.S.
The other four Americans competing in the women’s race were listed online as Annie Bersagel, Caitlin Comfort, Lauren Kleppin and Wendy Thomas.
Names of the five men representing the U.S. were not readily available from the World Half Marathon Championships source.
Clara, a WVU graduate, is listed only by her married name in available publicity for this event.
She and her husband Jason now live in Mt. Morris, Pa. Both are working in the Morgantown area.
She is employed as a lifeguard at Morgantown’s Health Works. Clara helps numerous people in the pool with needed exercises.
She has performed very well as a young professional distance runner in numerous races. Those include the Boston and New York Marathons, and recently the Houston (Texas) Half Marathon.