OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Nothing was going to stop Odyssey Sims.
Not her early foul trouble, West Virginia’s suffocating defense or the left ankle injury she suffered less than t wo minutes into the Big 12 championship game.
Sims, the Big 12 player of the year, bounced back and 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 bid into the NCAA tournament. It was Sims’ fourth championship in four years.
“Just feels great,” she said. “It feels good to win another championship. I’m happy for my team. Just happy.”
Niya Johnson scored a career-high 19 points and made four free throws in the final minute, and Nina 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 added 10 each for West Virginia (29-4), which had won 12 straight. The Mountaineers were trying to win the tournament in just their second year in the conference, but now they have something to think about as they prepare for the NCAA tournament.
“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.”
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. Sims was slowed this time after scoring 48 and 39 points in the regular season games, but the Bears supported her 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. Baylor elected not to foul, choosing to play defense and force West Virginia to make a difficult shot. Stepney missed a long 3-pointer at the buzzer, and the Bears celebrated.
“I tried not to foul when she shot the three, and I just had to play smart,” Johnson said.
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.
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 four minutes. The Lady Bears fought their way through and now, they can look forward to the NCAA tournament with a team that has proven to be about much more than Sims.
“I knew that we had a bunch of hungry players that wanted their opportunity to play and they patiently waited their turn,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. “And then, as the season progressed and we scheduled the right games and the right teams in non-conference to let them grow, I had an opportunity to see a team that’s good, and I think that everybody now sees that as good as Odyssey is, we’re pretty good when she’s not on that floor, too.”
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