By CLIFF BRUNT
OKLAHOMA CITY — It took West Virginia two years to make a splash in the Big 12.
The seventh-ranked Mountaineers earned a share of the regular-season title in their second year in the league and take a 10-game win streak into the conference tournament that starts Friday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Seniors Asya Bussie, Christal Caldwell, Brooke Hampton, Jess Harlee and Taylor Palmer will be remembered for winning the title and the most regular-season games in school history.
“To win the Big 12 in the second year is great, and with this group,” Big 12 coach of the year Mike Carey said. “A lot of times, you have seniors and you say the right things about your seniors because people are going to write it down. I really mean what I say about these seniors this time. They’re just great people. They deserve this. They worked hard through the summers and all that, and that makes it all worthwhile.”
West Virginia (27-3), the No. 2 seed, will play Friday’s TCU-Texas Tech winner Saturday.
Ninth-ranked Baylor (26-4), which earned a share of the title and the top seed in the tournament, will play Friday’s Kansas-Kansas State winner Saturday in the quarterfinals. Sims, the Big 12 player of the year, takes a 29.6 scoring average into the tournament. Nina Davis, a freshman forward, was also named to the all-conference first team. The Bears earned their share of the title with a win over Iowa State on Tuesday night.
Saturday’s action opens when No. 4 seed Oklahoma State plays No. 5 Iowa State. The Cowgirls started the season 12-0 but have lost six of seven. Iowa State won its first 14 games this season but finished 9-9 in league play.
Texas and Oklahoma play in Saturday’s nightcap. Oklahoma, the preseason favorite in the Big 12, is seeded sixth. Guard Aaryn Ellenberg was knocked out of the Oklahoma State game with a concussion, but has returned to average 24.3 points in her past three games. No. 3 seed Texas allows opponents to shoot just 34 percent.
West Virginia beat Baylor and national scoring leader Odyssey Sims 71-69 on Sunday in Waco to move into position to win the title. The Mountaineers then topped Kansas on Tuesday to earn their share of the championship.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Carey said after the game. “This was a tough game coming off that one day prep and not a lot of rest.”
Bussie is West Virginia’s anchor. She was an All-Big 12 first-team pick and was named to the all-defense team after averaging 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Sophomore guard Bria Holmes was a first-team all-conference pick. She led the team with 14.8 points per game and made 62 3-pointers.
Palmer was the sixth player of the year after averaging 10.2 points per game. Harlee was named to the all-defense team.
Carey wants to make a run in the conference tournament to better his team’s NCAA tournament position.
“It’s always been about seeding, getting a good seed and location,” he said. “I think hopefully, we’re going to be a two or three seed and see where were placed. It’s all about location, who your draw is and who you’re seeded with.”