Oh So Close

West Virginia and Baylor waged an epic battle for the Big 12 title, but in the end a pair of late WVU missed chances and a controversial foul call left the Mountaineers on the short end of a 74-71 score.

Befitting the close competition between the two teams all season, the Big 12 Championship came down to the final few possessions. Trailing 70-69 with 33 seconds to go, WVU turned the ball over while attempting to get it inside to Asya Bussie, who had posted up on the block. The pass was eventually corralled by Baylor's Niya Johnson, who was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to push the Bears' lead to three.

WVU then responded with a Linda Stepney lay-up to reduce the margin to one, and on the ensuing inbounds play the Mountaineers seemed to do everything right, forcing a last second pass to Johnson, who fumbled the ball while running into Bussie. The Mountaineer senior went to the floor to grab the ball, but was whistled for a foul that sent the Bears back to the line with four seconds to go.

"I thought we had a good trap there at the end of the game, but a foul was called," WVU head coach Mike Carey said.

Johnson calmly hit both free throws, and when Stepney's long three didn't find the mark, the Bears earned their fourth consecutive Big 12 title.

"We just didn't execute down the stretch, and we just didn't defend," Bussie said afterward.

West Virginia did its best defensive job of the season against Bears' star Odyssey Sims. The Mountaineers restricted her to 14 shots and 19 total points, but the slack was picked up by Johnson, who went a perfect 9-9 from the line on the way to 19 points. Nina Davis also helped fill the Odyssey gap, adding 16 points and five rebounds.

The Mountaineers battled from behind for most of the first 30 minutes. After taking an early 5-4 lead, they didn't see the plus side again until midway in the second half. Baylor pushed its advantage to as many as nine points in the opening period before WVU rode its defense to a rally.

"We did a good job defensively at times, but our rotation in the first half was not good," Carey noted. "The second half I thought we did a better job."

Briana Holmes led all scorers with 24 points, with 12 of those coming on 3-pointers. She scored 19 in the first half to almost single-handedly keep West Virginia in the game. Averee Fields and Stepney each added ten. A collapsing defense kept Bussie from her usual offensive contributions -- she took just four shots. Despite the sagging defense, the Mountaineers couldn't take advantage from the outside. Other than Holmes, WVU made just one three on seven attempts in the game.

Bussie and Holmes were both named to the Big 12 All-Tournament Team.

West Virginia now must wait to learn its seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The selection show is set for Monday, Mar. 17 on ESPN at 7:00 p.m.

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