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WVU women squander big lead, lose to Oklahoma at Big 12 tournament

By Michael Florek

DALLAS - After 30-7 run to close out the first half, after leading by as many as 20 points, the No. 6 seed West Virginia women's basketball team's Big 12 Tournament hopes hung in the air as the buzzer sounded in its second-round game against third-seeded Oklahoma.

A free throw with 5.5 seconds left gave Oklahoma a one-point lead. West Virginia's rush the other way ended as freshman guard Bria Holmes released a shot from the corner. The ball hit the front of the rim and fell of the side, causing the Mountaineers to fall 65-64 Saturday night at the American Airlines Center.

"We just weren't aggressive the second half," West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. "That's all I stressed at halftime: Be aggressive. Keep attacking. You can't relax. They are a good team. They are going to come back. They are going to make some runs.

"But man, once that starts going, it's just hard to stop unless somebody steps up and hits some big shots."

Now something else is left hanging: West Virginia's NCAA tournament chances.

The team sits at 17-13 on the year, 9-9 in Big 12 conference play.  

"We really needed this for the NCAA," Carey said. "We are on the bubble, big time. I think it's really hurt us for the NCAA and it's a shame. ... This is the No. 1 RPI league in the country. I would hope six people would get in."

In the first half, West Virginia looked on the verge of a resume-boosting win. The Mountaineers took over the game with eight minutes to go in the first half. Coming out of a media timeout, they scored eight straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Holmes and junior guard Taylor Palmer. A four-point deficit became a four-point lead. Free throws fell. Three-pointers swished through.

After starting the game 5 for 20, West Virginia missed just three of its final 13 shots in the first half. Holmes' steal and coast-to-coast layup with 12 seconds left in the half closed the 30-7 run, giving West Virginia a 44-25 lead as it headed to the locker room.  

"We thought that we had the game," said junior guard Christal Caldwell, who led all scorers with 22 points. 

After a West Virginia 3-pointer early in the second half stretched the lead to 20, Oklahoma began its comeback. A 23-4 run brought the game back within three points with eight minutes left. Oklahoma's Aaryn Ellenberg's layup with four minutes to go tied the game.

It remained tied when West Virginia got the ball back with 26.4 seconds to go, but an offensive foul call on sophomore forward Averee Fields gave Oklahoma the ball, setting up the game-winning free throw by Sharane Campbell.

"We fouled 94 feet from the bucket," Carey said. "We just weren't smart in the second half."

West Virginia once held the game and its season in its hands. The only thing it can do now is wait.


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