MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) It took 13 seasons for West Virginia coach Mike Carey to finally cradle a conference championship trophy.
After years of being perennial also-rans in the Big East and last year in their inaugural season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers have that coveted title.
Bria Holmes scored 16 points to lead No. 7 West Virginia to a 67-60 victory over Kansas on Tuesday night. The Mountaineers will share the regular-season championship with No. 9 Baylor, which defeated Iowa State 70-54 later Tuesday for a piece of its fourth consecutive conference title.
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”To win the Big 12 in the second year is great,” Carey said. ”We struggled but we played well enough to win.”
West Virginia’s players gathered arm-in-arm after the game and joined fans in singing John Denver’s ”Country Roads,” the school’s unofficial anthem. A trophy presentation was held and the players took turns cutting down the nets.
Based on a tiebreaker, Baylor earned the top seed for the league tournament and West Virginia gets the second seed. Both will have first-round byes and begin tournament play on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
Carey said he normally mentions the next opponent during his postgame talk to his players.
Not this time.
”I just said `Let’s enjoy this,’ and I gave them one day off and we’ll come back Thursday,” Carey said.
The title for West Virginia (27-3, 16-2 Big 12) is its first since 1991-92 when it was in the Atlantic 10.
West Virginia’s 27 regular-season wins broke the school record of 26 set in 2009-10. That year was the closest Carey came to a conference title, finishing second to UConn in the Big East.
The Mountaineers earned this season’s title shot after beating Baylor 71-69 on Sunday.
”A lot of tears, a lot of sweat,” said West Virginia’s Asya Bussie. ”It feels really good. This is something that we’ve always wanted, all throughout our careers. It’s a good feeling finally achieving this goal.”
Bussie and Crystal Caldwell added 14 points apiece for the Mountaineers, who are riding a 10-game winning streak.
CeCe Harper scored 19 points and Natalie Knight added 17 for Kansas (12-18, 5-13).
The Jayhawks did their best to spoil West Virginia’s party but couldn’t overcome a 13-point deficit in the second half. Kansas lost its fifth straight game.
West Virginia forced 17 turnovers and outrebounded Kansas 45-39.
”They really did a nice job defensively and (when) we turned it over, they scored,” said Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson. ”I thought our kids battled.”
Kansas took its only lead of the second half, 36-34, on a drive by Bunny Williams with 17:10 left.
Bussie then scored six points during a 14-4 run, and she later made a free throw to give the Mountaineers their largest lead, 62-49, with 3:54 remaining.
Kansas reeled off six straight points, with Natalie Knight’s 3-pointer pulling the Jayhawks within 63-58 with 1:59 left.
But Kansas ran out of chances. Bussie ripped a rebound from Harper underneath the West Virginia basket, and Holmes eventually made a layup with 1:19 remaining to push the lead to seven.
West Virginia put itself in position for the crown after beating Baylor 71-69 Sunday to move into a first-place tie.
Before tipoff, West Virginia honored Bussie, Caldwell and three other seniors playing in their final home game, while highlights of the Baylor win, including Averee Fields’ go-ahead layup with 12 seconds left, were shown on the video board.
All five seniors started, although Brooke Hampton, who is recovering from a knee injury, was taken out of the game right after the opening tip.
”I really mean what I say about these seniors. They’re great people,” Carey said. ”They deserve this.”