MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Christal Caldwell raved about chemistry leading to tough wins. Asya Bussie recounted a Big 12 championship a career in the making. Coach Mike Carey was so jittery he feared fumbling the trophy.
In the end, both coach and players cherished a senior night where emotions sometimes overwhelmed the basketball action.
Admitted Caldwell: “I remember myself zoning out once and thinking, ‘This is my last home game.’ But like Coach Carey said, we just had to focus and play WVU basketball. So we got it together and pulled out a victory. A big one.”
Big, indeed, as West Virginia (27-3, 16-2) won the program’s second conference title—and its first since 1992—by defeating Kansas 67-60.
Carey, while crediting assistants who helped recruit his deepest team and veteran players who filled leadership roles, said “this championship started four years ago.” With five seniors playing their final home game—surrounded by parents and fans anticipating a crowning—no wonder the night was filled with extra tension.
Obviously tight at the outset, West Virginia turned aggressive with a 10-2 run over the final 2:06 of the half and regained the lead 32-28. The Mountaineers were struggling to score, just as they had during a 65-55 win in Lawrence on Jan. 2.
Said Bussie, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds: “We were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves, knowing how important this game was. We just had to calm down.”
No moment was more pressurized for Bussie than the opening jump ball, when WVU played some risky odds by sending out injured senior guard Brooke Hampton.
Still rehabbing a knee injury suffered last month, Hampton was thrilled to be part of the senior night lineup though she has not been medically cleared to resume running or jumping. Carey and Hampton wrestled with the decision throughout Tuesday, and once it was settled that she would take the floor, teammates converged upon Bussie.
“I found out right before the game,” she said, “when they came over and they were like, ‘You have to win the tip, so we can call timeout and get Brooke out of the game.’”
Bussie won the tip, and WVU called timeout two seconds later. Just one of many aspects on senior night that went West Virginia’s way.
BIG 12 TOURNAMENT PAIRINGS
Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena
7 p.m. No. 8 Kansas vs. No. 9 Kansas State
9:30 p.m. No. 7 TCU vs. No. 10 Texas Tech
10 a.m. No. 4 Oklahoma State vs. No. 5 Iowa State
2:30 p.m. No. 1 Baylor vs. Kansas-Kansas State winner
7 p.m. No. 2 West Virginia vs. TCU-Texas Tech winner
9:30 p.m. No. 3 Texas vs. No. 6 Oklahoma
3 p.m. Saturday early session winners
5:30 p.m. Saturday late session winners
9 p.m. Semifinal winners