OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — No. 5 West Virginia had the ball and the lead in the final 90 seconds of the Big 12 championship only to see its penchant for winning close games unravel.
Of course No. 7 Baylor had a lot to do with that.
Twice West Virginia came up empty on inside touches by Asya Bussie, and on the other end Baylor’s Odyssey Sims sank the go-ahead jumper with 53 seconds left. That carried Baylor to a 74-71 win Monday night and its fourth consecutive conference tournament title.
It also gave Sims and her team a measure of revenge from the painful loss to WVU in Waco eight days earlier, a loss that forced Baylor to share the regular-season championship.
“We’ve got a team full of warriors, and I like it,” said the All-American Sims, whose 19 points were nine below her season average and way off the 43-point pace she set in two regular-season meetings against West Virginia.
Bria Holmes scored 24 points for West Virginia (29-4), which had its 12-game winning streak snapped mere hours after achieving the program’s highest AP ranking ever. In an ebb-and-flow game reminiscent of the previous meeting, the Mountaineers trailed by nine in the opening half before pulling ahead by five with 9:35 left in the game.
At that juncture, it seemed WVU might be on track to win its first conference tournament since 1988. Ultimately, WVU coach Mike Carey thought too many turnovers and too many uncharacteristic defensive lapses foiled his team’s chances.
“We had a one-point lead with a minute left and just didn’t execute,” he said.
When Sims sat out a few minutes with a first-half leg injury, it became a cue for Baylor’s role players to shine. Niya Johnson scored a career-high 19 points and freshman Nina Davis, the tourney MVP, added 16 points.
But with the game on the line and the Bears trailing 70-69, Sims buried a pull-up jumper fro the left wing.
“I knew they weren’t going to let me penetrate and I didn’t want to run over anybody, so I jumped up and made the shot,” she said.
WVU threw the ball away on its next possession trying to work a high-low to Bussie, who made only one field goal in 39 minutes against Baylor’s sagging defense.
“I felt (Bussie) was a little bit tired today, couldn’t move,” Carey said. “They bottled her up.”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, twirling a strand of the nets her team cut down Chesapeake Energy Arena, said the defensive effort that held Bussie to 1-of-4 shooting and six points was crucial.
“I challenged our team to hold her under 10 shot attempts and she got four.”
Though Johnson made four straight free throws down the stretch for Baylor (29-4), West Virginia guard Linda Stepney had a slim chance to tie the game in the final 4.3 seconds. She took the inbounds pass on the run, avoided Johnson near halfcourt and launched a lunging 30-footer that clanged off the iron.
“Do you foul there? Or do you take your chances that they’ve got to make a spectacular shot?” asked Mulkey.
Baylor’s philosophy might have been different were Holmes still on the floor for WVU, but the sophomore who was 4-of-6 on 3-point shots had given her fifth foul to put Johnson at the line with 23 seconds left.
Stepney had 10 points, as did Averee Fields, who said West Virginia would gather itself in hopes of making the program’s deepest NCAA tournament run.
“We’ll feel the loss a little bit, but there’s a lot left to play for,” Fields said. “Just like we have to move on from wins, we have to move on from losses.”