MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — By the merciful conclusion to No. 13 West Virginia’s 77-45 thumping of No. 12 Oklahoma State, the praise flowed loud and freely … from the Cowgirls’ bench.
“West Virginia, I think they’ve got an Elite Eight-type of team, if not higher, depending on where they get the draw,” said Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell. “I think it’s the most talented team in the Big 12.”
Playing before a crowd of 2,087, the Mountaineers (23-3, 12-2) certainly looked the part Wednesday night, building a 42-point lead while claiming the program’s largest margin of victory over a ranked opponent.
Bria Holmes scored a game-high 20 points, Christal Caldwell added 15 and Asya Bussie commanded the lanes for 12 points and 12 rebounds as WVU coasted to its sixth straight win and a season series sweep of Oklahoma State (20-5, 9-5).
The Cowgirls finished just 1-of-18 from 3-point range, managed 25-percent shooting overall and committed 17 turnovers—suffocated by one of WVU’s stingiest defensive efforts of the season.
“Defense, that’s how we get going,” Caldwell said. “It was amazing how well we played tonight.”
Donning purple warmup jerseys with the name “SELARRA” printed across the back, the Mountaineers honored team manager SeLarra Armstrong, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on Dec. 31. The senior from Philadelphia was on the bench fulfilling her typical pregame duties when she realized a surprise was afoot.
West Virginia made it a fitting tribute by holding Oklahoma State 28 points below its scoring average. The visitors missed their first seven shots, endured 11 empty possessions and trailed 14-0 before a jumper by Brittany Atkins finally ended the Cowgirls’ drought at the 13:57 mark.
“They just never could get going,” said West Virginia coach Mike Carey. “We caught them on a bad night and they caught us on a good night.”
So good that Littell used his postgame handshake to tell Carey he might have a Final Four team on his hands.
“He said that and I acted like I didn’t hear it,” Carey joked. “If you saw us on TV the other night against Oklahoma you wouldn’t think that.
“On any given night we’re a pretty good team, but I don’t get caught up in all that.”
Buoyed by Holmes’ 17 first-half points and 12 from Caldwell, WVU led 41-23 at the break. The most notable difference of the first 20 minutes was West Virginia making 6-of-13 from 3-point range and the Cowgirls going 0-of-8.
After shooting only 32 percent in the opening half, OSU tapered off to 19 percent in the second period (6-of-31).
“I thought their team played very inspired, very hungry,” Littell said. “They’re very good defensively and they take a lot of things away.”
West Virginia remained a game behind Baylor in the conference standings, thanks to the Bears beating Iowa State 89-51 on Wednesday night. The teams are scheduled to meet in Waco on March 2.
“It’s hard to account for Odyssey Sims going off for 40 points on any given night at Baylor, but I think one through 12, West Virginia’s as talented as they come (in the league),” Littell said.
The Cowgirls staged an otherwise meaningless 12-2 run in closing the prodigious blowout, preventing Bussie from pronouncing it as the complete-game, 40-minute effort WVU has been seeking.
“I would say it was about 35 minutes, because there were some times that we let up,” Bussie said.
The senior center seemed to be borrowing cautious talking points from her coach, a self-professed “downer” who curbed his team’s celebration with warnings about Saturday’s game at Kansas State.
“If we don’t win Saturday,” Bussie said, “then this win isn’t important.”