By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Meet the new champs, same as the old champs.
(All those loyal readers who get the rock and roll reference, Your Humble Correspondent extends an Internet fist bump.)
The Lady Bears had to share the regular-season title with West Virginia. Baylor proved it’s not good at sharing. After losing on its home court to the Mountaineers eight days ago, the Lady Bears captured the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship with a 74-71 victory over the Mountaineers Monday night.
It was Baylor’s fourth consecutive championship trophy, matching its string of regular-season titles. This one was accomplished without Brittney Griner plus four other seniors who departed and were key performers for the 2012 national championship team.
“It means a lot,” said senior Odyssey Sims, the lone hold over from the Griner Era. “I think the group that just left, give credit to them. We dominated the first three years with them, and being the underdog going into the season, I think our team handled it very well. We kept playing, I didn't expect us to win as many games as we did, but we kept fighting.
“We've got a team full of warriors, and I like it.”
The March 2 game in the Ferrell Center was described as a street fight. Round Two moved the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was similar to the game in Waco,” said West Virginia’s Asya Bussie, who had 21 in the victory at Baylor but finished with six points on just four shots. “The outcome was just different.”
And it was different because Baylor won without a heroic effort by Sims, who had averaged 43 in the first two meetings. She finished with 19. Sophomore point guard Niya Johnson had a career-high 19 points and a career-high in free throw attempts (nine). She was perfect at the line make four had-to-have-‘em in the final 21 seconds.
“I know you guys don't believe this, but she scored 50 points in a high school game,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “Niya can score, she just has a point guard's mentality: Pass first, score second. But as you're seeing, Niya has to score for us, and when she does we're a better basketball team.”
Freshman post Khadijiah Cave played 12 minutes and totaled seven points and six rebounds.
“She needs to be written about,” said Mulkey, who even likes to coach writers. “She got some big offensive rebounds in there and got to the foul line. “
On Monday, the Mountaineers (29-4) gained their highest ranking (No. 5) in school history. They again displayed the ability to bounce back when the opponent threw a figurative punch. Baylor controlled much of the first half and built a 36-25 lead on a Davis follow shot with 1:38 remaining.
But West Virginia’s 7-2 run made it 38-32 at halftime. Holmes steal and layup foiled a Baylor attempt to go full-court for a basket with five seconds remaining. The turnover had Mulkey punching the scorer’s table near her bench.
The Mountaineers upped their aggressiveness on offense in the second half, dribble driving like the court was the Autobahn. West Virginia grabbed its biggest lead at 56-51 with 9:54 remaining and 37 seconds Davis, named the most outstanding player, picked up her fourth foul.
Sims, who passed Griner as the Big 12’s single-season scoring leader with 938 points, tied it at 61-all with two free throws with 6:24 remaining and from there it was back-and-forth basketball.
In the loss to West Virginia, Sims had a career-high 10 turnovers with the final mistake leading to the Mountaineers’ winning basket. Sims also missed a 12-foot baseline shot that could have won the game.
With Baylor trailing 69-68, Sims dribbled from the left wing, refused an offered screen, pulled up for a 15-foot jumper … nylon. With 50.4 seconds remaining, Baylor had a 70-69 lead.
“I knew they weren't going to let me penetrate, I didn't want to run over anybody,” Sims said. “I jumped up and shot and I made it.”
Sims, voted the Big 12 defensive player of the year, then forced a turnover when West Virginia tried a lob to Bussie.
“We were looking for a little bit of high‑low, but if it's not there, it's not there,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. “We went ahead and threw it. I told the team after the game to remember how this feels. Next time going down the stretch, we need to execute.”
After Johnson’s final free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining, Baylor had a foul or defend choice. West Virginia’s Linda Stepney launched a 25-footer at the buzzer but it clanked off.
“We just beat a team that is very good,” Mulkey said. “They play hard-nosed aggressive man-to-man defense. We just battled. This was good for our conference. That was a good game.
As she spoke, she was holding a piece of nylon cord. Mulkey was wearing leather pants. Her championship game fashion philosophy: You can’t wear a skirt to cut nets.
2014 Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team
Nina Davis, Baylor (Most Outstanding Player)
Odyssey Sims, Baylor
Asya Bussie, West Virginia
Bria Holmes, West Virginia
Zahna Medley, TCU