Baylor is WVU women's new Mount Everest
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For the longest time Wednesday night at the Coliseum, the question wasn't whether West Virginia's women's basketball team would outscore No. 7 Baylor, but whether the Mountaineers would even outscore Odyssey Sims.
That the Mountaineers managed the latter, finally, but not the former was of little solace, of course.
Sims, the nation's leading scorer, dropped in 48 points and Baylor walked away with a 78-62 win, but really now, wasn't that almost expected? For all that West Virginia's women have accomplished this season - even after Wednesday's loss they are 13-2 - this is still an odd bunch that for some reason plays better on the road than at home.
OK, so losing by 16 and surrendering the most points ever scored by one player at the Coliseum - male or female, friend or foe - wasn't exactly the high point of the season to date.
Still, while West Virginia's effort against Baylor and Sims Wednesday night fell short, that should take nothing away from what Mike Carey's team has accomplished this season. Note to the uninitiated regarding women's college basketball: Baylor is pretty good. Really good, in fact. The Bears have been to three Final Fours and won two national championships within the last decade.
And as good as Brittney Griner was for Baylor last year, Sims is a better player. Don't let the fact that she's not 6-foot-8 fool you.
(Random Sims factoid No. 1: Only three players have ever scored more than Sims' 48 in any game involving WVU's men or women, home or road, any era. Notre Dame's Austin Carr had 55 in a game in South Bend, Ind., in 1970, Hot Rod Hundley scored 54 once in 1957 and Mark Workman dropped in 50 in a game in 1951. That's it.)
Anyway, this isn't about Sims and Baylor except to contextualize things as far as West Virginia is concerned. It's kind of like the days when WVU was among the hordes beating their heads against the wall against Connecticut (and then Connecticut and Notre Dame) in the Big East. The Mountaineers have moved on to the Big 12 and have, unfortunately, found another Mount Everest they must climb.
Or maybe it's not unfortunate. Hey, everyone needs an Everest, right? Otherwise you get fooled into thinking that all those bumps in the road you cleared were mountains.
(Random Sims Factoid No. 2: Sims' first name, she said, was given her by her mother because she liked watching a TV show by the same name when she was pregnant. Fortunately she wasn't a Gilligan's Island or Dragnet fan.)
Well, West Virginia hasn't cleared Mount Baylor, obviously, but the Mountaineers are getting closer. A year ago Baylor came here ranked No. 1 and left after an 80-49 laugher. Maybe it will be different when the teams meet in Waco, Texas, near the end of the season, but even if it's not, that doesn't diminish what else the Mountaineers have accomplished this season.
There was a 13-game winning streak that started after a season-opening loss to Ohio State. Almost none of those games were even close, which perhaps says a bit about the quality of the schedule (the team's RPI strength of schedule was No. 160 before the Baylor game), but this was still a team good enough to go into Stillwater, Okla., last weekend and beat an Oklahoma State team that hadn't lost all season. That's no fluke.
It's just that this game the Mountaineers didn't show up. Cristal Caldwell, for instance, averages almost 13 points per game but went 0 for 11. Baylor had 21 more rebounds. It was 13-2 to start the game and seldom was it close again.
"Hopefully they'll come back ready to work,'' Carey said. "It doesn't get any easier.''
(Random Sims factoid No. 3: Baylor's only loss this season was, get this, 133-130 to Kentucky in four overtimes at Jerry Jones' AT&T Stadium in Dallas, a game in which Sims had a previous-best 47 points, but she and six [yes, 6] other Bears fouled out.)
Well, the doesn't-get-any-easier thing isn't quite right. Just about everyone is easier than Baylor, but you can still respect Carey's point. West Virginia has a lot of difficult games remaining and the likelihood of more 13-game win streaks this season isn't good.
But nor does this appear to be a team that will fold under the pressure of league play. It's a veteran team with five seniors and three juniors among the top nine players and has been through a few wars.
"From the beginning we were trying to play catch-up the whole game,'' said one of those seniors, Asya Bussie. "But we'll bounce back. We just have to focus.''
(Random Sims factoid No. 4: Sims, who did have more points than WVU throughout the entire first half and finished the game scoring or assisting on 20 of her team's 25 field goals, scored her final point with 1:40 to play, but never looked up at the scoreboard to see how many that was. Would she have gone for 50 if she'd known? "Trick question,'' Sims smirked. No answer was forthcoming.)
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.