The Baylor Lady Bears did not quit. They could have given up and dug themselves into a big hole early in the game, but they kept fighting. Even when their All-American, Odyssey Sims went to the bench with just over 17 minutes left to go in the first half.
The Lady Bears (29-4) over came a 1-point deficit inside the final minute to knock off the No. 7 ranked West Virginia Mountaineers 74-71 to win their fourth consecutive Big 12 Championship.
They trusted a strong group of underclassmen to carry the load with Sims out.
"i don't think you realize how good they [Baylor's freshman] are because Makenzie Robertson and Sims are having good senior years," head coach Kim Mulkey said. "You can rung things, believe it or not, when your All-American is not in there, you can run things a little bit smoother because they're jumping defensing or we're trying to let Odyssey to doo much. I think you saw that tonight."
After falling behind to start the game 5-0 behind Bria Holmes opening points, Baylor responded over the next 2:28 on a 9-0 that forced West Virginia head coach, Mike Carey to call a time out. The run ballooned out to 13-2 when Nina Davis and Sune Agbuke combined to score the next six for Baylor.
Holmes, sophomore, was very unstoppable for the Mountaineers in the first half. She scored 19 points in the first half, leading the game in scoring for the first half. She shot 7-of-9 from the floor and just one turnover. However, she and the Mountaineers found themselves down 38-32 at halftime.
The play of the first half though, was the steal by Holmes near the end of the first half, and lay up with 4.8 seconds, topping off a 7-2 run for West Virginia. It carried over to the second half, as Linda Stepney scored on a quick lay up, just 15 seconds into the half.
"I told the players," Carey said. "Remember how this feels. Because next time going down the stretch, we've got to execute."
Sims, the national leading scorer at 28.7 points per game, scored just four points in the first half as two fouls riddled her on the bench and almost helpless as her team carried the Lady Bears into the locker room. That changed in the second half.
Sims came out, scoring the first four points of the second half. She was much more aggressive, and really hands on defensively in the second half. It's the Sims that we had come to see throughout the regular season.
Though, Sims and Nina Davis were continuing their romp into the paint, West Virginia kept hitting shots. Taylor Palmer and Holmes continued the onslaught from three-point range. Even though, they went just 2-of-5 in the second half, both three's were key to the West Virginia come back.
Davis, selected as the Big 12 Tournament's MVP, averaged 18.0 PPG, including her 19 points in tonight's victory. She also grabbed five rebounds, moving her average to 8.0 rebounds per game. She was by far the most consistent player of the tournament, and always came up with a really huge defensive stand or a big basket to help put her team in position to win. Though, just a freshman, Davis continues to impress.
"Coming into the year, I didn't expect I would be where I am now and getting the MVP, Davis said. "but it's a feeling I can't describe. I'm just blessed."
West Virginia's second half come back came to a full tilt when Avery Fields hit two free throws, tying the game at 49-all, then Holmes, draining one of her four three-pointers. West Virginia had their first lead since early in the first half at 52-49.
The Mountaineers increased the lead to 56-51 with 9:54 remaining off a Fields lay up. Fields, a junior, scored all 10 of her points in the second half when the Lady Bears allowed their defense to sag more off the guards, and more into defending Asye Bussie.
After the Mountaineers pulled up by five, Agbuke and Sims took over. Then Khadijiah Cave had a huge offensive rebound that put the Baylor Bears in the lead at 63-62 with 4:50 remaining. She capped off the and-one situation by sinking the free throws.
Niya Johnson scored 19 for the Lady Bears tonight on 5-of-8 shooting. Her previous career high before tonight was just 10 points, done on multiple occasions. She led the Lady Bears in scoring, tying with Sims with 19 points. Agbuke had eight points and 10 rebounds in the victory. She had just four points coming into tonight's championship.
No one was more impressive off the bench than Cave. She had five points in crucial minutes for the Lady Bears, sealing up this victory.
Fields and Niya Jonson would trade shots, giving Baylor a 68-67 lead with 2:04 remaining in the contest. That's when Stepney would hit a running lay up, giving West Virginia their final lead at 69-68.
However, the super star scorer, Sims, hit the shot from the left side. It was almost identical to the same shot she missed against West Virginia just eight days before. This time, it was nothing but net.
"I knew I had to get it -- not a quick shot, said Sims. "But a good looking shot, not a poor shot, not a bad shot. Ball was in my hands, I came off the screen, knew they weren't going to let me penetrate. I jumped up and shot and I made it."
"Just feels great. It feels good to win another championship," Sims said.
West Virginia had a desperation heave with just seconds remaining that missed, allowing Baylor to swim in the championship confetti.
"We discussed it in a time out, do you foul there" Mulkey said. "or do you take your chances that they've got to make a spectacular shot and look your seniors. and say what do y'all want to do? That's showing ownership of your team and they didn't want to foul there. So that decision quite honestly was left up to seniors."
For Baylor, the championship marks, yet another milestone in the belt of a very successful program. No big 12 program has this many consecutive conference championships, as stated above.
"We've had lots of Big 12 Player of the Years," said Mulkey. "We've had national championships. This is Baylor women's basketball."
Now the conference tournament is over, the lady Bears will turn their eyes on the NCAA Tournament. They're in the conversation as the fourth No. 1 seed.
That will have to wait for next Monday, for now the Lady Bears are Big 12 Champions.