West Virginia and Texas took the measure of each other on their home courts during the regular season, but it was the Mountaineers that captured a rough-and-tumble Big 12 semifinal game on Sunday. The Mountaineers converted 19 of 26 free throws in the second half to hold off a physical Texas squad.
In the first half, defense reigned on both ends. Texas, employing a 2-3 zone at times, held the Mountaineers without a field goal for the first 3:23 of the game, and scoring continued at that slow rate throughout the opening 20 minutes. Both teams played tough defense, which forced difficult shots and a number of turnovers.
Sparked by its man-to-man defense, West Virginia put together one run in the half, although it came over the period of more than 4:30. The 10-2 spurt gave WVU a 18-10 lead, which it mostly maintained through the rest of the period. WVU led at the break 28-21.
In the second half, the intensity ramped up, and so too did the fouls. West Virginia attacked the basket continually, and wound up shooting 26 free throws in the second half. Nineteen successful conversions allowed it to turn back several Texas rallies and move on to the final.
"The two games we played Texas before were physical and they weren't pretty so it didn't surprise me it wasn't a pretty game," WVU head coach Mike Carey said afterward. "We were able to hit some foul shots. I'm very proud of these players and I always feel good with them down the stretch. We've had a number of close games this year down the stretch."
Neither team managed to top the 40% mark from the field, with the Longhorns hitting just 38%, while WVU was even worse at 36%. The difference came at thre free throw line, where WVU outscored Texas by 14 points.
West Virginia never yielded the lead in the final 20 minutes, but UT kept it close, cutting the margin to one on two different occasions, and to two at 62-60 with 1:08 to go. On each occasion, West Virginia rallied at the free throw line to push the lead back out to a safe margin.
WVU's Bria Holmes led the Mountaineers with 24 points, including nine from the foul line.
"Today I tried to attack the basket more," Holmes said.
Christal Caldwell added 15 points and a team-high five rebounds, while Taylor Palmer chipped in ten.
With one of its Big 12 conference losses avenged and a season series won, WVU will now try to do the same against Baylor in Monday night's championship game. The teams split during the regular season, with each winning on the other's home floor. The game will air on FoxSports1 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.