OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Texas just couldn’t lay off.
West Virginia’s guards drove over and over again, and Texas kept fouling. The Mountaineers outscored Texas 28-14 from the free-throw line on their way to a 67-60 victory Sunday in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
Bria Holmes scored 23 points and Christal Caldwell added 15 points for No. 7 West Virginia (29-3). The guards combined to make 17 free throws.
“West Virginia’s guards were really, really good today, and we weren’t able to keep them at bay as far as early in the game transition buckets, and then in the second half we just couldn’t stop their penetration,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “Part of it was our lack of efficiency on defense, but some of it was their ability to get to the paint and draw fouls.”
West Virginia advanced to play No. 9 Baylor in the championship game Monday night. The Mountaineers will try to win the tournament in their second year in the Big 12. Top-seeded Baylor and second-seeded West Virginia shared the regular-season title. Baylor beat No. 18 Oklahoma State 65-61 earlier Sunday.
Chassidy Fussell scored 15 points, and Nekia Jones added 14 for the Longhorns (21-11).
Texas’ normally dominant posts struggled. Nneka Enemkpali, a 6-foot-1 junior who was an all-conference first-team pick, had six points and four rebounds. Imani McGee-Stafford, a 6-7 sophomore and an all-conference second-team selection, had five points and six rebounds.
“I thought they did a terrific job denying our post players the ball,” Aston said. “It’s twofold: They have to work a little harder and get better position, but the other piece to that is that we have to be patient enough to reverse the basketball where we can get some pins from the way that they’re being played on the first pass, and that’s where I thought we were impatient, really, really impatient in the first half and didn’t let the offense flow.”
It was the rubber match in a tight series. West Virginia won the first regular-season meeting 56-49 in overtime at home, and Texas won the rematch 66-63 in Austin.
West Virginia led 28-21 at halftime. Neither team shot well in the first 20 minutes — Texas made 8 of 24 shots, and West Virginia was 8 of 26. West Virginia outscored Texas 9-3 on free throws before the break. Jones, a reserve, scored nine points in the first half to help Texas stay in the game.
West Virginia increased its lead to 37-28 on a jumper by Caldwell, yet Texas hung tough. Jones’ 3-point play cut it to 44-43 with just under 12 minutes to play, but Linda Stepney answered with a 3-point play on the other end.
West Virginia temporarily regained control with a 3-point play by Holmes to go up 55-46 with about eight minutes remaining.
Fussell converted a 3-point play with 5:39 to play, trimming West Virginia’s edge to 56-51, and Kelsey Lang’s layup on Texas’ next trip down the floor caused West Virginia to call a timeout. Texas chopped the Mountaineers’ lead to one, but Fussell fouled out with 3:49 to play.
Texas had the ball, down two but Celina Rodrigo missed a 3-pointer and Caldwell made two free throws at the other end to give the Mountaineers a four-point lead and the control they needed.
Aston left the game feeling good about her team’s chances at NCAA tournament success, partially because of the way the players handled the loss.
“I thought that they really came here to win the tournament,” she said. “They didn’t come here just to win a game. They’re an extremely disappointed group right now. They’re not ready to go home. I’m going to give them a few days off, and I don’t necessarily think that they were ready to do that. They wanted to play tomorrow.”
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