OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — West Virginia entered the Big 12 women’s tournament on the bubble for an NCAA bid. It left it with an automatic berth.
Tynice Martin scored 32 points, helping the Mountaineers beat No. 2 Baylor 77-66 in the Big 12 final on Monday night.
West Virginia last won a conference tournament in 1989, when it was part of the Atlantic 10. There was no reason to believe things would change this year, not with West Virginia limping into the tournament with five losses in its previous nine games.
The Mountaineers turned it around at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They advanced to the final with Top 25 victories over Oklahoma and Texas, and West Virginia coach Mike Carey saw no reason to stop there.
“They knew coming down here that we had to win at least one, two games (to get an NCAA bid), and I told ’em after the second game, hell, we might as well win the third one since we’re here,” he said. “And they came out and played extremely hard and continued to play defense the whole time.”
Martin, a sophomore guard, set a tournament record for most points in a championship game and was named the most outstanding player. She averaged 27.3 points in three games, the third-highest average in tournament history.
“It feels amazing to average what I averaged this tournament,” Martin said. “But when you have good practices and when you have my teammates behind me saying, ‘Nobody can guard you,’ and my coach saying, ‘Attack them,’ you have no choice but to do what they say and to believe in yourself.”
Teana Muldrow added 15 points for West Virginia (23-10).
Kalani Brown scored 19 points and Kristy Wallace had 17 points and nine rebounds for Baylor (30-3), which had won the last six conference tournaments.
The Lady Bears had won seven in a row against West Virginia, but the Mountaineers lost by just six at Baylor on Feb. 6 in their previous meeting and played with confidence from the start in the final.
Martin scored 11 points in the first quarter to help West Virginia take a 22-14 lead. West Virginia’s biggest lead was 21 points in the third quarter.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey was pleased that the Lady Bears cut it to six in the fourth quarter, but she wished her team didn’t wait so long to turn up the intensity.
“If you play with that sense of urgency when the game started and you get every loose ball and you’re productive the first five minutes of the game, you might not have lost,” she said.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers had fallen out of the Top 25, but they now are in position to gain a high seed.
Baylor: The Lady Bears probably have done enough to remain a top seed in the tournament. Their body of work is impressive, including 11 wins over ranked teams. Baylor had scored at least 86 points in its four previous games, including a 103-64 win over Oklahoma.
Mulkey, on not being able to overcome the Mountaineers after cutting the deficit to six: “You’re fatigued at that point. You’re leaving it all — listen, I am excited and I expected them to __ well, I better use a better word than ‘fight.’ I expected them to play hard. That’s all we know.”
Baylor’s reserves went scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting.
“Some people need to do some soul searching on our bench when they go in a game,” Mulkey said. “Is the moment too big for you, or can you put on your big girl panties and play in a game like this.”
West Virginia and Baylor await their seeds and opponents for the NCAA Tournament.
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