OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Everything seemed to be going West Virginia’s way.
Baylor superstar Odyssey Sims was hobbled by a left ankle injury and the Lady Bears’ emerging star, Nina Davis, played with foul trouble through much of the Big 12 championship game.
West Virginia didn’t take advantage. Sims scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half to help No. 9 Baylor defeat No. 7 West Virginia 74-71 Monday night and earn an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
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”I told the players, remember how this feels because the next time going down the stretch, we’ve got to execute,” West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. ”We normally have executed well going down the stretch. Today we just had a couple shots, missed them, and then defensively is where I was really disappointed. We didn’t execute and get some stops.”
Niya Johnson had a career-high 19 points and made four free throws in the final minute, and Davis added 16 points for the Lady Bears (29-4), who have won 15 of their past 16 games. Davis, a freshman, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Bria Holmes scored 24 points and Linda Stepney and Averee Fields each scored 10 for West Virginia (29-4), which had won 12 straight.
”I think tonight we’ll feel the loss a little bit, but we just have to learn from it,” Fields said. ”Our season is not over, and we want to make a good run in the NCAA tournament, so we have to put it behind us. We have to move on from wins and we have to move on from losses. So I think that we’ll get back together, get focused in practice, and we’ll be ready for the tournament.”
The teams shared the regular-season Big 12 title and split their games during the regular season, with each winning on the other’s home court. West Virginia slowed Sims, who had scored 48 and 39 points in the regular season games, but the Bears supported her Monday by shooting 48 percent overall.
The lead went back and forth in the final minutes.
Sims made a jumper with 50.4 seconds left to put Baylor up 70-69.
West Virginia misconnected on a post entry pass and turned the ball over. Baylor ran the clock down, forcing West Virginia to foul. Holmes committed her fifth foul by reaching in on Johnson, and Johnson made two free throws.
West Virginia’s Stepney made a layup with 5.4 seconds remaining, then West Virginia quickly fouled. Johnson made two more free throws with 4.7 seconds to play to put Baylor up by three. Stepney missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Baylor celebrated.
Sims left the game after hurting her left ankle with 18:20 left in the first half and West Virginia leading 5-0. When she returned to action with 12:59 left in the half, the Lady Bears had taken a 16-12 lead.
Sims subbed out again with 9:36 left in the first half. When she returned, West Virginia tested her. Brooke Hampton drew a foul on her and made two free throws, then made a jumper over her after a drive, leading to Sims’ return to the bench.
Sims re-entered the game, but committed her second foul with 2:16 left in the half.
Through it all, Baylor maintained control. Davis scored in close to push Baylor’s lead to 36-25, but she committed her second foul with 41 seconds left.
West Virginia’s Asya Bussie stole the ball and Holmes made a layup with 4.6 seconds left to cut Baylor’s lead to 38-32 at halftime. Holmes scored 19 points in the first half to keep the Mountaineers in the game. She made 7 of 9 shots in the first half while her teammates made 4 of 18.
”I think we played a little bit tentative the first half, so second half, coach Carey just told us to play our game to do what we normally do,” Fields said. ”I think we came out with a lot of energy and wanted to play the way we normally do. We like running up and down the floor, so we tried to do that more the second half.”
Davis committed her third foul with just over 15 minutes to play. Right after she subbed out, West Virginia cut Baylor’s lead to 46-44 on a baseline jumper by Stepney, then tied the game on its next possession when Bussie scored down low. The Mountaineers finally took the lead on a 3-pointer by Holmes with just under 12 minutes remaining. West Virginia extended its lead to five on a steal and layup by Fields.
Baylor regained the lead, 63-62, on a putback by Khadijah Cave, setting up the final 4 minutes.
West Virginia now will wait to see where the selection committee places the Mountaineers. Carey believes his team has earned a good seed.
”I think we at least should be a three, at least a three seed,” he said. ”I said this yesterday: Two, three, I’m happy.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP