OKLAHOMA CITY – During a timeout in the action in the first half, a West Virginia fan and a Baylor fan waged an entertaining dance-off that included a few old-school breakdancing moves. The Big 12 called the battle a draw.
There was no such stalemate in the dance-off between the basketball players – Cinderella was the star all the way.
Battering Baylor with a constant precipitation of 3-pointers, sixth-seeded West Virginia sprung an upset of the top-seeded Lady Bears with a 77-66 win in the Big 12 tournament final Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. West Virginia (23-10) became just the second No. 6 seed in the two-decade history of the Big 12 tourney to claim the title, and the Mountaineers halted Baylor’s string of net-cutting ceremonies at six in a row.
West Virginia sophomore guard Tynice Martin was too nice in her shooting display, pouring in 32 points on her way to the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. It was a marvelous run by the Mountaineers, who defeated No. 3 seed Oklahoma, No. 2 seed Texas and the top-seeded Lady Bears on their way to the title.
“Very few times in 31 years of coaching, something like that, I can ever think of one player taking her team on her shoulders and winning three games – Tynice Martin did that,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “She did it every game here. She just elevated over people and made shots – and kudos to that team.”
The flow of the game proved a vast difference from the teams’ first meeting of the year back on Jan. 4. Baylor trounced the Mountaineers on WVU’s home court in Morgantown in that game, 91-56.
But West Virginia played Baylor far tougher in the rematch in Waco, losing only by a 79-73 score later in January. Perhaps that gave the Mountaineers a confidence boost entering Monday’s tournament final on a neutral court.
The Mountaineers fired away from as far as Stillwater in taking down the No. 2-ranked team in the country. Mike Carey’s team shot 30 times from 3-point territory, making 11, including four from Martin and three more from sophomore guard and native Texan Katrina Pardee.
West Virginia was viewed by some bracketologists, including ESPN’s Charlie Crème, as a bubble team entering the conference tournament. So the Mountaineers did themselves a major favor by earning the Big 12’s automatic berth into the Big Dance.
“If I can be as happy being an opponent as I can for a guy and a school and a team, it would be Mike Carey,” Mulkey said. “He is a hard-nosed, man-to-man coach. … I’m just happy for Mike and his team.”
For Baylor (30-3), the loss shouldn’t affect the program’s NCAA tournament standing. The Lady Bears still figure to be a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced on March 13. They will host the first two rounds of the tournament at the Ferrell Center in Waco, and are probably destined to be placed in the Oklahoma City Regional overall.
After trailing by 21 points through three quarters, Baylor made a furious surge in the fourth. Mulkey tried every adjustment that they could, employing a full-court press and changing to a zone defense in the half-court. The changes effectively disrupted West Virginia’s flow, and Baylor came storming back. The Lady Bears got as close as 72-66 when Kristy Wallace buried a 3-pointer with 28 seconds to play.
But turnovers and the failure to secure key rebounds proved costly for Baylor. The Mountaineers also knocked down their final six free throws of the game once Baylor was forced to foul to stop the clock.
Ultimately, Mulkey said that the game was lost in the first five minutes.
“We didn’t – I shouldn’t say fight – we didn’t play as hard as we needed at the start of the game,” Mulkey said. “Why didn’t you play with that sense of urgency when the game started?… So some people on our bench need to do some soul-searching when they go into the game. Is the moment too big for you, or can you put on your big-girl panties and play in a game like this?”
Kalani Brown scored a team-high 19 points, but started out just 2-for-8 from the floor before hitting her final five shots. Seniors Nina Davis and Alexis Prince scored 15 points apiece, and Kristy Wallace played with her usual fire, scoring 17 points, corraling nine rebounds and delivering five assists while playing all 40 minutes.
Prince, Davis and Wallace made the all-tournament team for Baylor, along with Martin and Teana Muldrow for West Virginia.
West Virginia displayed a willingness to launch away from the perimeter from the outset. The Mountaineers drained four of their first five shots from 3-point land, spurring some separation from the Lady Bears. The teams were tied at 12 midway through the first quarter, but West Virginia swished its way to a 10-2 run to close the period, with Tynice Martin ripping a late trey and then freezing her shooting form aloft for a moment for emphasis.
Baylor shook loose from the offensive mud it found itself stuck in to open the second quarter, opening on a 10-5 surge. The Lady Bears cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 27-24 when Alexis Prince connected on a 3-pointer in transition at the 5:48 mark of the period.
West Virginia answered with a 12-2 run that included Katrina Pardee’s third 3-point bomb of the first half. That helped the Mountaineers run the lead up to 13 points, but Baylor scored on a Kristy Wallace runner and a Kalani Brown tip-in just before the halftime horn to slice the deficit to 39-30 at the break.