West Virginia rode down to Oklahoma City this week knowing that it had a lot of work to do in the Big 12 Tournament to steal a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Step one was finally snatching a win over an Oklahoma State team that had dealt the Mountaineers a pair of defeats in the regular season. And on Saturday night they did just that, taking the first step towards defending their 2017 Big 12 Tournament title with a 69-60 win at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Six-seed West Virginia (21-10, 9-10 Big 12) rolled out one of their stoutest defensive performances of the season, holding the Cowgirls (20-10, 11-8 Big 12) to 38 percent shooting and limiting star guard Loryn Goodwin – who torched the Mountaineers both times these two teams met in the regular season – to a 5-19 night from the field.
Meanwhile, in her first postseason game at the Division I level, junior college transfer Naomi Davenport delivered. Davenport scored a game-high 21 points, while shooting guard Katrina Pardee delivered some timely 3-pointers on her way to 15 points.
West Virginia jumped out to an early 15-4 lead behind a hot start from Pardee, and never trailed throughout the game. The Mountaineers built on the lead throughout the game, eventually reaching 17 in the fourth quarter before a late Cowgirl run brought the final margin to single digits.
And despite working at a size disadvantage to Oklahoma State, West Virginia managed to more than hold its own inside. The Mountaineers outrebounded the Cowgirls by 11 on Saturday, and outscored them in the paint 32-30 – an atypical performance from West Virginia in the paint, especially against Cowgirl big Kaylee Jensen, who hurt West Virginia badly in both regular season matchups.
While Jensen scored 29 points and pulled down 9 rebounds and Goodwin had 8 rebounds of her own, the rest of the Oklahoma State team combined for just six rebounds. Davenport led the Mountaineers with 9 rebounds, Pardee added 8, while West Virginia’s two biggest players – senior forward Kristina King and reserve center Theresa Ekhelar – combined for 13 in the frontcourt.
And most critically, head coach Mike Carey managed to save a few minutes from senior point guard Chania Ray, who is battling through a hobbled knee that has bothered her for several weeks. Ray played 33 minutes – the fewest of any Mountaineer starter – and had 3 points and 3 assists.
On Sunday, West Virginia will continue its march to March when the Mountaineers face another team they haven’t beaten this year: No. 7 Texas, who saw off Iowa State 81-69 Saturday behind 25 points from All-Big 12 guard Ariel Atkins.
West Virginia’s Big 12 semifinal matchup with Texas will tip off at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, and will be televised live on Fox Sports 1.