Strong Effort Comes Up Just Short For WVU Women Vs. Baylor
MORGANTOW, W.Va. — Sometimes, as West Virginia’s women’s basketball team proved last night, winning isn’t the only thing, as the great football coach Vince Lombardi tried to tell us it was.
See, the Mountaineers played their final regular season game at the Coliseum on Monday night and the scoreboard said they lost. When the final seconds ticked off, it showed a final score of 63-57 in favor of Baylor, the nation’s No. 1 team.
But while Baylor won the right to celebrate, rest assured they left knowing they’d been in a fight for their lives against a team they had beaten by 32 points the first time they played in Waco.
WVU didn’t win the game but they won something more important … respect.
They won the respect of Baylor, a team that may just win the national championship, and they won the respect of 3,087 fans and a national television audience and they won the major prize — self-respect.
Overmatched physically, they muscled up with a bigger, better team, sent them sprawling to the floor over and over, took them out of their game and almost handed them their second loss in 29 games this season.
“We took West Virginia’s best shot,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. “It was a physical game and we snuck out with a win.”
Snuck out, indeed, for had WVU not gone 5 of 11 on layups, or had they not missed a couple of free throws down the stretch, they would have pulled off the upset.
“Baylor is great team. They have a chance to win it all,” said WVU Coach Mike Carey. “But we should have won this game. We just didn’t execute down the stretch.”
That was the shame of it because the Mountaineers had banged and banged hard all game, had sent 6-4 Lauren Cox hard to the floor twice on dual possession balls, had played hardball with 6-7 All-American Kalani Brown, who Carey said is “the best player in America” because you have to commit three players to guarding her.
But it slipped away in the fourth quarter when they had an awful defensive breakdown on one inbounds play and the made their own mistakes on offense.
“We lost by five to the No. 1 team in the country,” senior Naomi Davenport said after a Senior Night to remember with 20 points and 13 rebounds. “That’s all the confidence we need for the conference tournament.”
It was the last time running down the carpet for WVU seniors Katrina Pardee, Davenport and Theresa Ekhelar, and who knows about Tynice Martin, who has a year left but well may also leave.
Certainly, they couldn’t ask for much more out of their final home game, facing the nation’s No. 1 team in Baylor, a team they have a history of beating when not expected to.
The start for the Mountaineers, though, was tentative as they set a trend of missing shots and they never really got past that in the opening half, going out trailing at halftime, 31-23, because they couldn’t make anything close to the basket.
“We came out a little shaky,” Martin admitted. “We were throwing up air balls, a lot of crazy shots.”
The result was they finished shooting just 29.8% for the half while Baylor was hitting 50% of its shots, most of them by Lauren Cox who made five of six from the field and led all scorers with 13 points.
The other end of that spectrum was Davenport. Recently joining the 1,000-point club, Davenport seemed to have the Senior Night jitters. She had made but 2 of 12 shots and, while gathering in six rebounds, had four turnovers.
Kari Niblack had come off the bench to provide an offensive spark to the Mountaineers and went to the locker room with 10 points while Martin had eight.
The shame was WVU was playing strong, aggressive defense. Baylor, which over the season has three assists for every turnover, had been forced into 13 turnovers by halftime with just six assists, but WVU also had the yips and had turned it over 10 times.
The good news was that WVU had converted Baylor’s turnovers into 16 points while the Bears got no more than four points off the WVU miscues.
And so it was they went into the final 20 minutes of the game with WVU hanging tough and looking for someone to get a hot hand and put some points on the board.
The third quarter started with Baylor stretching its lead into double figures for the first time in the game, taking it to 11 points, but Martin began heating up.
A streak shooter who, when hot, is deadly from the outside and she banged home a three and a jumper and cut the lead to 38-31 with five minutes left in the quarter.
Then it was Baylor who went off on a run, ringing up six straight points to carve out a 44-31 lead and forcing Mike Carey to call a time out to try and put the pieces back together.
And that’s just what Carey did as WVU came out and scored the final three baskets of the quarter, the final one 30-foot buzzer beater by Davenport that drew WVU to within six points at 44-38 heading into the final period.
They took it to the wire with tough defense, causing a team that has 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover margin to turn it over 19 times to 10 assists.
But in the end they were outmuscled 40-27 on the boards, Cox pumped in 22 points with 10 rebounds and that was that.