By Jeffrey Swindoll
The No. 6 Lady Bears had the chance to lock up the Big 12 regular season title and the number one seed for the Big 12 tournament, but could not defeat the West Virginia Mountaineers. Baylor (25-4, 15-2) lost to West Virginia (26-3, 15-2) 71-69 Sunday at the Ferrell Center. The Lady Bears can still solidify the number one seed in the Big 12, but will have to win Tuesday at Iowa State.
Players and coaches said it would be a battle between the Big 12’s top two teams on Sunday. Both teams are known by their distinct man-to-man defense and quick offense.
West Virginia’s defense played the way Baylor expected and prepared for, but sophomore guard Niya Johnson and senior guard Odyssey Sims struggled to find openings in the half-court offense in the first half. West Virginia was physical and energetic against a fast-paced Baylor offense with a rowdy crowd at the Ferrell Center.
Both teams knew the stakes were high with all the chips on the table Sunday. It was a long, physical game, but Baylor held the lead for almost 35 of the 40 minutes in the game. West Virginia fought all game long and had several high-percentage chances to tie the game throughout the second half.
The Mountaineers finally broke through in the last five minutes of the game. It shaped up to be an epic fight to the finish. Mulkey compared the game to a boxing prize fight after the game.
“It was one of those types of games where you say, ‘Who’s going to fall first?’” Mulkey said.
Sims had the winning layup in her hands after rebounding a West Virginia free throw with under five seconds left, but she could not sink the floater. Baylor fans at the Ferrell Center were shocked as it became clear the Lady Bears would lose the last home game of the season.
“She’s going to blame herself, and she doesn’t need to beat herself up over it,” Mulkey said. “If I did it over again, the ball would be in her hands.”
Most Baylor players were in tears by the time the final buzzer sounded. This game hurt the Lady Bears, and especially the senior players who will not play another home game in their college career.
The Lady Bears had to earn their baskets against WVU, whose hard-nosed defense lived up to its reputation once again even on the road.
The Mountaineers had an overall poor performance from the line, shooting 9-for-19 in free throws. However, West Virginia was the first conference team all season to shoot 50 percent in field goals against the Lady Bears at home, and the first team to beat the Lady Bears at home in four years.
Sims scored 39 points and shot 13-for-30. The rest of the Lady Bears shot 7-for-21. Sims had a career-high 10 turnovers against the Mountaineers.
“This is a very big win for us. We just came in here really focused and stayed focused the whole game,” West Virginia post Asya Bussie said. “We have goals, and one of our goals was to beat Baylor, and that’s what we did.”
Last time against West Virginia, Sims had her way, scoring a career-high 48 points. West Virginia head coach Mike Carey said he saw a big difference between their first meeting against Baylor and the game on Sunday.
“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, win or lose, 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.”
Mulkey and her Lady Bears hoped to win the Big 12 regular season on Sunday, but those hopes will have to wait. Mulkey said she accepts the fact now that the regular season title will most likely be a shared title between Baylor and WVU, who each have one game to play (Baylor at Iowa State and West Virginia at home versus Kansas) , but she is still pleased with the fact that the Lady Bears can still win the number one seed with a win against Iowa State on Tuesday.