Bria Holmes scores 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting to push the Mountaineers into their first title game
The matchup that we all wanted, we’re going to get tomorrow night: No. 1 vs. No. 2.
Bria Holmes scored 23 points to lead the Mountaineers into the Big 12 Championship on Monday against the Baylor Lady Bears.
“Everyone wants it bad,” said senior Christal Caldwell. “This could be our first chance to win a conference tournament championship.”
The Mountaineers led for a majority of the game, trialing after Chassidy Fussell hits a jumper for Texas to start the game. Fussell also hit a three-pointer to score Texas’ first five points of the game. Empress Davenport sank a jumper, tying the Mountaineers at 10-all with 11:50 remaining in the half.
Christal Caldwell scored 15 points to help the Mountaineers extend their now school record of wins with West Virginia improving to 29-3 on the season.
West Virginia continued to be physical and grind it out against the Longhorns. They forced the Longhorns into 18 turnovers on the night, in which the Mountaineers scored 23 points off those turnovers. Including 14 of those in the second half to help the Mountaineers win the game.
One of the biggest turnovers came with 2:57 remaining, Brooke Hampton stripped the ball away, and the Mountaineers went down and scored on the ensuing possession by Averee Fields, pushing the lead to 62-57.
After owning a 28-21 halftime lead, the Mountaineers were able to increase the lead to 37-28 with 16:39 remaining. Not counting out Texas, they were able to get the West Virginia lead down to 44-43, the closest they would be, at the 11:36 mark. Nekia Jones was able to hit the lay up for Texas.
Fussell would lead the Longhorns in scoring with 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Celina Rodrigo pitched in 10 points. Also, Jones, the true freshman, chipped in 14 points, nine in the first half.
West Virginia held the Longhorns to just 38.2 percent shooting as team.
Mike Carey, the Big 12’s Coach of the Year, is going into his third conference championship as a head coach. He’s 0-2 previously. Those losses were to Connecticut Huskies in the finals of the Big East tournament in 2010.
Texas would cut the Mountaineer lead to 62-60 with 1:27 remaining when Rodrigo scored. Texas would get a stop at the other end and had a chance to tie with under a minute to go, but couldn’t capitalize. Rodrigo missed a three-pointer badly, and the ball went off a player and out of bounds with 34 seconds remaining.
The Mountaineers hit their free throws down the stretch to seal the contest.
Limiting Imani McGee-Stafford and Nneka Emamkpali was huge for the Mountaineers. McGee-Stafford did not have a field goal in the first half, and Emamkpali only had one – they were basically non-existent in this contest. That’s a huge credit to the defensive effort of Asya Bussie and Fields. They were very aggressive, and kept them under constant pressure. McGee-Stafford and Emamkpali combined to score just two points on the evening of 1-of-7 shooting.
As their tournament is over, the Longhorns will now await the fate of the selection committee. They’re considered a lock into the tournament, currently a 5th seed in the most recent ESPN Bracketology. The Longhorns will have lots of weapons to use in the NCAA tournament in McGee-Stafford and senior Fussell. They could be a team causing havoc this season.
This third meeting with the Baylor Bears is what everyone wanted. You heard the Baylor team talking about playing West Virginia in their hotel this morning as they were getting taped up. They knew who they would be facing. That also is a huge challenge for this Mountaineer team that has already beaten Baylor once this season, in Waco.
“We haven’t covered her [Odyssey Sims] yet, West Virginia head coach,” Mike Carey said. “So, I guess I don’t have a plan. She had 48 and 38. She’s a great player. Our goal is to be it close going into four minutes left. Both teams have pressure on them with four minutes left to go in the game.”
This tough win by a tenacious West Virginia program is just indicative of how tough the Big 12 Conference is this season, even comparing to the Big East Conference, according to Coach Carey.
“From top to bottom,” coach Carey said. “The Big 12 is the strongest conference I ever coached in, from top to bottom. There’s just not a lot of off nights.”
Throughout the history of the Big 12 Championships, the No. 1 and No. 2 teams have have played five times previously. The No. 1 seed has yet to be beaten at 5-0. The top two teams also met last year for the title with Baylor winning the Championship.
“Baylor wants us again,” Christal said about tomorrow’s championship. “Tomorrow is just going to be a big game for both teams.”
Follow @OKCChuck on Twitter as he covers the Big 12 Championships on on Monday night.