By Shehan Jeyarajah
Odyssey Sims was a one-man show against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Sunday. The senior guard from Irving has carried the team all season. Sims’ ability to put her team’s chances of winning on her shoulders game in and game out has been the sword that the Lady Bears lived and died from this season.
Sims poured all she had into the game on Sunday, and consequently the post-game emotion was destined to be joyous celebration or devastating heartbreak. There was no middle ground. Sims expected it from herself to win the game.
She put the weight of the Big 12 regular season title all upon her. The was ball in her hands to win in the final sequences of the game on two separate plays, but her efforts in both resulted in disaster.
With the lead and a few timeouts, Sims turned over the ball with 19 seconds left.
“I was trying to keep the ball in my hands,” Sims said. “I thought they would foul. I turned it over. I gave the ball up too quick.”
The Mountaineers picked it up and came down the court on a fastbreak and converted the turnover into two points and had the chance to convert a three-point play after senior guard Makenzie Robertson fouled West Virginia forward Averee Fields on the fastbreak.
The Lady Bears were rattled by West Virginia’s frantic style towards the end. Sims tried to break through the defense against double-teams and triple-teams all night.
“She’s a very good player, and we just had to make her work for her points,” WVU post Asya Bussie said. “We changed up our defense from the last time we played them, and just defended her very differently from the first time.”
Open looks were tough to find for the Lady Bears. Besides Sims, the Lady Bears shot 7-for-21 against the mountaineers.
Not only is seven baskets a relatively low offensive total, but only shooting the ball 21 times compared to Sims’ 13-for-30 indicates an imbalance of play and the confidence the Lady Bears have shooting when Sims is not the one shooting.
Even after a nearly absent afternoon from the other Lady Bears on the scoreboard, if Fields missed the free throw, Baylor still had the chance to win the game thanks to Sims’ outstanding offensive performance.
Fields clanked her free throw off the back iron. Sims grabbed the rebound and looked straight down the court. Coaches, players and fans all knew Sims was going to take the last shot.
Sims sprinted down the left side of the court, utilizing her quick feet and agility to blaze past some Mountaineers trailing after the free throw. Sims had three players on her as she drove to the basket for the game-winner, she pulled up the ball and tossed up her signature floater layup shot. It bounced off the right side of the rim. Freshman forward Nina Davis fought for the rebound, but ended up pushing the ball out of bounds with just over two seconds left.
Sims realized the gravity of her miss, and in a swing of high emotion, she pulled the collar of her jersey over her face. Junior post Sune Agbuke came to console Sims who was bent over in the timeout after her miss. Sims’ individual effort and talent were not enough this time to save her team.
As the Lady Bears move forward and look to make a conference title run, as well as a hopeful Final Four appearance, the rest of the team needs to perform at a higher level than against West Virginia to win. The West Virginia game showed just how much of a slippery slope it is to put the responsibilities of winning on Sims’ shoulders so often.
They counted on a play from Sims to bail the team out once again against West Virginia, but the stakes were higher than at any other point in the season.
The reason the Lady Bears even had the chance of winning in the first place turned out to be the same reason the Lady Bears lost. Sims’ talent demands that she have the ball in clutch moments. Mulkey said she would not have strategized the last play differently, it was just a matter of making the shot.
“If I did it over again, the ball would be in [Sims’] hands,” Mulkey said. “Got two, three timeouts, she knew that, and they have to foul you there because I think there was only five-second difference between the game clock and the shot clock so we are going to let them foul us.”
She has done well with the burden in the past, and the Lady Bears are in the midst of a strong regular season run, but if Sims has an off-night or cannot make the clutch basket, it may prove to be the end of their season in the coming weeks of elimination play.