By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
OKLAHOMA CITY – After winning two battles with TCU, each by four-point margins, West Virginia was able to double up and win its first game in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship.
The Mountaineers (28-3) lost their first game in this event last season but this year entered as the No. 2 seed after sharing the regular-season title with Baylor. The seventh-seeded Horned Frogs were trying to post the first upset here at the Chesapeake Energy Arena but fell short.
West Virginia’s 67-59 victory in Saturday’s quarterfinals moved it into Sunday’s semifinals. The Mountaineers will play No. 3 seed Texas, an 82-72 winner over No. 6 seed Oklahoma in the last quarterfinal.
“They played us extremely hard all three times,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. “ I knew this was going to be like this, this game, and I told the team when we knew we were playing them last night that they're a great team.”
West Virginia has found that running an effective offense against TCU’s zone defense is like solving a Rubik’s Cube while blindfolded and wearing oven mitts. In the two previous games, the Mountaineers shot a combined 35.5 percent from the field and 27.2 percent from 3-point range.
The Mountaineers managed to knock down 41 percent of their shots but were only 20 percent (3-of-15) from 3-point range. That was barely enough to counter TCU sophomore Zahna Medley, who made 6-of-12 from 3-point range and scored 32 points.
“She was amazing tonight,” TCU coach Jeff Mittie said of Medley, who scored 29 and 23 in the two previous games with West Virginia. “She had a look. I thought we were able to find her a lot of different ways.”
The game turned in the Mountaineers’ favor thanks to two reserves. Jess Harlee, a 6-1 senior voted to the All-Big 12 defensive team, used her length and mobility to limit Medley. Over the last 12 minutes, Medley failed to make a 3-pointer while being checked by Harlee.
“I knew my role was when I got in there, that I had to stick her and make sure she didn't get the ball,” Harlee said. “So I just did my best that once she passed it up I didn't want her to get the ball back.”
With Harlee handling the defense, Taylor Palmer supplied the offense. Voted by the Big 12 coaches as the sixth man of the year, Palmer fueled the 13-2 run that put the Mountaineers in control. West Virginia trailed 45-41 before Palmer made a trio of 3-pointers and also drew a charge. Her final 3-pointer gave the Mountaineers a 54-47 lead with 7:38 remaining.
“It just shows how deep we are,” Palmer said. “A lot of teams have maybe like five or six players. We have a whole team. Everybody comes in, everyone plays their role, and we're deep. Iit helps tremendously because everyone can come in and step up and do what they have to do for us to win the game.”
TCU had one last push, pulling to within 57-56 with 2:21 remaining but West Virginia made six of seven free throws over the final 1:20 – and Harlee rebounded and scored with the lone miss when the Horned Frogs fell asleep along the lane.
“We were right there,” said Mittie, whose team was outrebounded 42-27. “We've been down this road with them before, and they hurt us on the glass, and that continued to give us problems. They're a tough, physical match‑up.”