By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There was a moment, a mini-second really in terms of how West Virginia University’s game with No. 1 Baylor was played Saturday night, when magic seemed to be happening.
It was early in the second half of a game that the defending national champions from Texas had started 14-0 and 22-3, depending upon how you wanted to look at it, but the Mountaineers were suddenly on fire and that lit up the crowd.
Oh, yes, the crowd. What a crowd. There were 13,447 fans, more than double the last men’s crowd, the largest women’s crowd ever to see a West Virginia home game, far surpassing the Feb. 16, 2008, crowd of 8,307 who came out for a game against DePaul.
True, they came not to see the Mountaineers, for the 6-8 superstar of women’s basketball, Brittney Griner, was here with her Baylor teammates and that was the draw, but if they weren’t on hand to see WVU, they were there to root for them and they suddenly had hope as senior YaYa Dunning hit a three in her final home game, Taylor Palmer stole the ball and scored and Christal Caldwell hit a jumper.
That 22-3 score had become 42-34 and the cadaver that was West Virginia’s women’s team had a heartbeat … and then Dunning was called for her fourth foul.
“When I got called for the fourth foul the wind kind of went out of us,” Dunning said.
The air went out of the place right then as Griner took control, Baylor went on a roll and by the time it mercifully ended the Bears had themselves an 80-49 decision, giving them a 28-1 record and a 17-0 mark in Big 12 play.
Griner ended the WVU run by scoring off the out of bounds play following the foul and she carried the load the rest of the way, recording the first triple-double by anyone in the Coliseum since Jerome Anderson had one against Boston University in 1975.
Griner finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
“They don’t back down,” women’s basketball’s best player said of WVU challenging her inside. “They drive. They don’t change what they do.”
In all, 14 WVU shots were blocked, which says a whole lot about why the Mountaineers finished with a shooting percentage of 22.5 percent.
But if this seemed to be the Brittney Griner show, her coach, Kim Mulkey, assured that is not the case.
“This is not the Brittney Griner show,” she said. “We have six McDonald All-Americans. They can play and they chose to come to Baylor to play together rather than to go other places and play against each other. They came to win a national championship.”
And they did that last year with a 40-0 record and had they not lost to Stanford they would be riding a 69-game winning streak as they seem headed for another.
This is a team that does a lot of things and on this night it was as much defense as offense.
“I thought that from the tip we guarded West Virginia,” Mulkey said. “They talk about what we do offensively, but they don’t say enough about what we do defensively. I tell people that I don’t know what’s worse, getting your shot blocked by Griner or having Odyssey Simms steal the ball from you.”
The defense forced that 22.5 percent shooting percentage, something that Coach Mike Carey said was “embarrassing.”
It was a disappointing way for Dunning, who played here three years after transferring from LSU, to end her home career but the crowd also made it an exciting evening for her.
“It was amazing the support we had from the students and the community,” she said.
“I told her this was not her last game,” Carey said.
WVU has one more regular season game, Tuesday at Texas, and then the Big East Tournament. If they win the Texas game they almost certainly will qualify for the NCAAs, which means Dunning actually has a lot of basketball in front of her.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.