The Baylor Lady Bears were bound an determined not to lose another game in a little over a week’s time to the West Virginia Lady Mountaineers, band the Bears got the job done, outlasted the second-seeded Mountaineers 74-71 on Monday to capture their fourth straight Big 12 Women’s Tournament Championship and fifth in the last six seasons.
The tournament championship game was a classic showdown between the two league co-champions of the regular season. Both teams fiuished with identical 16-2 recoords in Big 12 play and a top-10 ranking in the latest national polls. West Virginia was ranked fifth in this week’s AP poll, the Lady Mountaineers’ highest ranking in school history, while Baylor held down the No. 7 position in the same poll. The USA Today Coaches’ Poll, however, had the rankings reversed, with Baylor at No, 6 and West Virgtinia No. 7.
Baylor and West Virginia split their two regular-season contests, with each winning 0n the others home floor. Just a week ago, West Virginia downed the Lady Bears at Baylor by a score of 71-69.
In Monday’s Big 12 championship game, Baylor withstood a 24-point game-high performance by West Virginia’s Bria Holmes and an 11-4 scoring run by the Lady Mountaineers to take a four-point lead midway through the second half after the Lady Bears had led for virtually the first 30 minutes of the game. The game went back and forth during the final six minutes before the Lady Bears took the lead for good with 53 seconds left in the game on a jumper by senior All-American Odyssey Sims, who tallied 19 points despite playing with an injured ankle.
Baylor also got 19 points from sophomore Niya Johnson and 16 more from sophomore Nina Davis. The Lady Bears will head to the NCAA Women’s Tournament late next week with a top seed and the Big 12′s automatic bid as the conference’s tournament champion. Baylor, which has a combined record of 137-9 over the last four seasons, was the women’s national champion in 2006 and 2012.
This was the Lady Bears’ fourth straight Big 12 Tournament title, but it was the first over that time frame without All-American and three-time Big 12 Player of the Year Brittney Griner. “It means a lot, said Baylor’s Sims, the only holdover from the Griner era at Baylor, in the team’s postgame press briefing. “I think the group that left (last year), 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. I didn’t expect us to win as many games as we did, but we kept fighting.”
Baylor’s path to the Big 12 Championship game included a quarterfinal win Kansas over and a 65-61 victory over No. 4 seed Oklahoma State in the semifinal round. West Virginia defeated TCU in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Texas its semifinal matchup.