WACO, Texas — The West Virginia women’s biggest win ever? Maybe.
A stunning way for No. 6 Baylor to suffer its first Big 12 home loss in four years? Definitely.
Now both teams figure to share the Big 12 regular-season title after the No. 11 Mountaineers rallied for a 71-69 win before 8,242 at the Ferrell Center.
Down by a point in what became a frantic finish, West Virginia’s trapping defense corralled national player of the year candidate Odyssey Sims, whose bad pass was intercepted by Averee Fields and returned for the go-ahead layup with 12 seconds left.
That was the 10th turnover of the game for Sims, the dynamic point guard who scored 39 points nonetheless and had a shot at redemption with 4 seconds left only to miss a contested jumper. After Baylor’s Nina Davis lost the rebound out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left, the Bears fouled Linda Stepney, who made 1-of-2 free throws.
“I’m very proud of the team—it was a great win,” said Mountaineers coach Mike Carey, whose team won its ninth straight and improved to 26-3 overall and 15-2 in the Big 12.
Asya Bussie produced 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting before fouling out and Christal Caldwell scored 12 of her 17 in the second half, keeping alive West Virginia’s quest to win its first conference championship since 1992.
Baylor (25-4, 15-2), unbeaten in its last 35 league home games, shot 35 percent and was held 16 points below its scoring average.
Sims, the country’s most prolific scorer, sank 13-of-18 at the foul line but concluded her final regular-season home game only 13-of-30 from the floor. Her teammates combined for only seven additional baskets, so there was little doubt Sims would have the ball as Baylor led 69-68 after WVU’s Bria Holmes fouled out on a charge with 35 seconds left.
But then came Sims’ errant pass, deflected to Fields after West Virginia’s Stepney and Crysta Leary trapped the All-American.
“They were trapping for like 5 or 10 seconds … and I was just trying to watch where (Sims) was going,” Fields said. “I think Linda tipped the pass, so it was wide-open for me.”
Bears coach Kim Mulkey called Sims’ turnover a rare mistake, considering Baylor had timeouts and West Virginia eventually needed to foul, given the five-second difference in the game and shot clocks.
“Odyssey, she’s going to be a woman and she’s going to be blame herself … but she shouldn’t beat herself up,” Mulkey said. “If I had it to do over again, the ball would be in her hands.”
Said Sims: “I figured they would foul, but I turned it over and gave it up too quick.”
West Virginia, which lost to Baylor by 16 in Morgantown earlier this season with Sims scoring 48, trailed 58-51 with 8:16 remaining as Bussie sat with her fourth foul. That’s when the guards took over, forging a 10-0 run highlighted by Caldwell’s game-tying jumper and a go-ahead 3 that gave WVU its first lead at 61-58.
It was the first of eight lead changes in the final 5:20.
“I felt like we were in one of those old boxing matches, those old prize fights, where it’s who’s going to fall first,” Mulkey said.
West Virginia shot 50 percent from the field, becoming the first team to do so against Baylor in 281 games, a streak that dated back to 2006.
Said Mulkey: “I’ve got to go back and look at film and go ‘Wow, is our defense that bad or did they shoot the ball that good?'”
Carey wanted his team to play more fearless than it had in the previous meeting.
“I just felt like the first time we played them, we weren’t aggressive at all—offensively, defensively— kind of sitting back, kind of intimidated,” Carey said. “This game I thought we were aggressive. I just wanted everybody to know that we showed up today, and our girls did a good job of that.”
The Big 12 race now boils down to a pair of Tuesday night games. The Mountaineers host Kansas (12-17, 5-12), while Baylor faces a tougher matchup at Iowa State (20-8, 9-8).
“I thought the crowd was outstanding, and I thought the setting was perfect, but we just didn’t get it done there at the end,” Mulkey said. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not disappointed to the extent that we lost the Big 12 championship. We now may just have to share it.”