Texas advances to Big 12 Championship with 68-55 win over West Virginia

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Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

With just 4.3 seconds remaining in the 2017 Big 12 semifinals, the second-seeded Longhorns found themselves on the verge of an upset, trailing sixth-seeded West Virginia, 62-59.

Then-junior guard Brooke McCarty immediately called for the ball on the inbound. Fellow junior guard Ariel Atkins found her in the corner, lobbing a pass that sailed just out of the reach of a West Virginia defender before finding its target.

McCarty caught the pass, set her feet and released a high-arching three. She held her arm up as the ball sailed through the air, waiting to see it go down.

Clank.

The ball collided with the rim before bouncing out, and West Virginia secured the rebound as the buzzer sounded.

The Mountaineers went on to defeat Baylor to earn their first Big 12 championship in program history. For the Longhorns, they knew they’d let an opportunity slip away.

“We got some good looks, but we just didn’t shoot the ball well at all,” head coach Karen Aston said following last year’s loss. “Credit to West Virginia, they were better than we were.”

Exactly 364 days later, Texas got its revenge.

The Longhorns took care of unfinished business on Sunday in Oklahoma City, thrashing West Virginia on the same stage as one year ago, 68-55, to advance to the Big 12 Championship.

Texas left nothing in question as the Longhorns led for all but the first three minutes of the game. After going just 2-for-8 to start, Texas flipped the switch. It was the Texas bench that proved key in the first quarter as Alecia Sutton put on a firework show from deep. The sophomore guard sank back-to-back threes, including a buzzer-beater to cap off a 10-2 run and give the Longhorns a commanding 24-12 lead.

“That’s just my role, coming off the bench,” Sutton said. “I bring energy to this team, and we needed it in the first half. If I get the ball in my hands, I’m ready to take the shot.”

Not much changed from that point on as West Virginia never got back to within single digits.

The peak of the blowout came at the end of the third quarter as junior forward Olamide Aborowa sank a close-range jumper to take a 58-36 lead with 49 seconds left in the period.

The Mountaineers finished strong in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 13 with 2:29 left thanks to a seven-point quarter by junior guard Katrina Pardee. West Virginia’s comeback fell short, though, as the Mountaineers consistently struggled to find an answer for Jatarie White. The junior forward finished the night with a monster stat line of 11 points and 12 rebounds as the Longhorns cruised to the 68-55 victory.

In a showdown between two defensive-minded teams, Texas’ depth was the difference maker. The Longhorns’ bench posted a 25-0 advantage of West Virginia’s bench — a testament to the team’s next-man-up mentality.

“From top to bottom, our effort was good,” Aston said. “I thought Olamide gave us some good minutes, Rellah (Boothe) is learning to have a more extended role and Jada Underwood was solid today as well. We all played really hard.”

With no Texas player recording over 20 minutes in the win, the Longhorns will have some added rest when they face Baylor on Monday in the Big 12 Championship at 8 p.m. The matchup against the first-seeded Bears will mark Texas’ third game in the past three days.

The grueling stretch will test Texas’ limits, but with last season’s bitter ending on their minds, the Longhorns are up to the task.

“Physically, we’re good,” Sutton said. “Last year we weren’t, but I think we’re ready this time around. We just have to stay focused.”