WACO, Texas – Baylor expects to win. That’s one of the messages from coach Kim Mulkey in the team introductions before each game at the Ferrell Center. “We expect to win,” she says in the video.
The read-between-the-lines message, in the first season post-Brittney Griner Era, is that the Lady Bears had no intention of giving up their position as three-time defending Big 12 champion. West Virginia, in its second season in the Conference, has other ideas.
In a tense battle that wasn’t decided until the final seconds, the 11th-ranked Mountaineers accomplished something that hadn’t happened in four years. They beat the Lady Bears in the Ferrell Center in a Big 12 game.
West Virginia’s 71-69 victory Sunday over No. 6 Baylor deadlocked both teams atop the league standings with 15-2 records. The outcome ruined Senior Day, particularly for All-American and national player candidate Odyssey Sims.
"We're disappointed, but I'm not disappointed to the extent that we lost a Big 12 championship," Mulkey said. "We may now just have to share it."
The game turned a 180 that left the pro-Baylor crowd of 8,242 stunned. The Lady Bears (25-4 overall) had maintained control most of the game thanks to a huge edge at the free throw line and 39 points from Sims, the nation’s leading scorer. Even when the Mountaineers took a 61-58 lead with 5:20 remaining, Baylor responded and regained the lead (69-68) on Sims’ free throws with 46.7 remaining.
When Sune Agbuke drew a charge on West Virginia’s Bria Holmes with 35.5 seconds remaining, Baylor went to its closer – Sims.
“We had our smaller lineup in and decided to trap (Sims) because we wanted to get the ball out of her hands,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said.
Double teamed near midcourt, Sims tried to find an open teammate but her pass was intercepted by Averee Fields, who dribbled three quarters of the court for a layup and a foul. She missed the free throw but it gave the visitors a 70-69 victory with 12.6 seconds remaining.
"I was trying to keep the ball in my hands. I figure they would foul," said Sims, who two months ago scored a career-high 48 points in a 16-point win at West Virginia. "I turned it over. I gave it up too quick."
It was Sims’ 10th turnover, the most in her career.
"She's going to blame herself. She's just a competitor, and she doesn't need to do that. 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."
After Fields’ free throw miss, Sims pushed the ball into the front court and pulled up for a wide-open 12-footer from the baseline. It missed and freshman Nina Davis came down with her 16th rebound, but she lost the ball out of bounds with 1.4 seconds remaining.
"This is a very big win for us. We just came in here really focused and stayed focused the whole game," said senior Asia Bussie, whose 21 points helped keep West Virginia in the game as it committed 18 turnovers. "We have goals, and one of our goals was to beat Baylor, and that's what we did.”
Cristal Caldwell scored 12 of her 17 points in the second half with 10 of those coming in the final six minutes. The Mountaineers shot 50 percent – only the second time in the last 282 games a Baylor opponent has made more than half of their shots.
“Is our defense that bad or was their offense that good?” Mulkey said. “Sometimes you just give the opponent credit. I’ll wait until I see the film.”
And we’ll have to wait and see who will be the Big 12 regular-season championship. Both teams have a game remaining.
“We've got to move on,” Sims said. “We've got a quick turnaround Tuesday.”
Baylor will play at Iowa State, which has won four out of five. West Virginia will be at home to face Kansas. There will either be a shared championship or the Lady Bears will have another undisputed championship or West Virginia will win its first Big 12 title in a major sport.
“I told ‘em in the locker room – I’m always the downer – I told ‘em this game doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win Tuesday,” Carey said. “We’ve got a quick turnaround for Kansas. They gave us fits at their place so it won’t be easy.”