By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — In 2017, the WVU women’s basketball team did the improbable. The Mountaineers took home the Big 12 tournament championship after finishing the regular season with a record under .500.
Not only did the Mountaineers earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they also had to beat three ranked teams in order to do it.
WVU finds itself in the same position again heading into the 2018 Big 12 tournament, at Chesapeake Arena. With the same 8-10 conference record and No. 6 seed, the Mountaineers are hoping lightning will strike twice for them.
“You know it’s all about defending your title. Any team wants to do that,” WVU’s Chania Ray said. “We just have to kind of do what it takes and do what we didn’t do early in the season. Every little detail matters, so we have to take care of the little things, and obviously, we want to win it again.
However, coach Mike Carey is quick to point out that this year’s squad doesn’t have the same makeup as the one that beat Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor to claim the 2017 crown.
“It’s not the exact same players either. Last year, coming in here, we had Lanay Montgomery and Tynice Martin playing,” Carey said. “But we do have three players that played in that tournament, Katrina Pardee, Chania Ray and Teana (Muldrow), so they know what to expect. The rest of them really weren’t on the team. We have some other veterans, but they’re hurt and not playing, so really it’s those three.”
Carey has been critical of his squad at times this year. He didn’t hold back on what he has seen as some of the team’s issues on the eve of another postseason run.
“We need to find five people that’ll play hard for 40 minutes, and play consistent,” Carey said. “Last year at this time, we were doing that, and here at the end of the season, we weren’t playing consistent, and we had some players not playing hard. We know this is if you lose, you go home, so hopefully we’ll come out and play that way.”
WVU (20-10, 8-10 Big 12) will face No. 3 seed Oklahoma State (20-9, 11-7 Big 12) in the quarterfinals at 9:30 p.m. March 3. In the two match-ups against the Cowgirls during the regular season, the Mountaineers came up on the losing end.
Despite that, WVU knows what it has to do in order to have success.
“First and foremost, we need to play defense, and lock into doing what we know how to do,” Muldrow said. “Coach is really big on defense. He’s the defensive coach, so we do what we know how to do, and just play defense, and move the ball and get space in, things like that, and we’ll be fine.”
While Carey has not been happy with the inconsistent play of his Mountaineers this season, he is hoping the postseason inspires them to play at a level he has rarely seen this season.
“If you can’t get up for the tournament, you’re probably not going to get up for any game,” Carey said. “The problem is, every team down here, they know this is their last game, so everybody’s going to play a little bit harder, go a little bit tougher. So, we’ll see. We’ve got to come out. Needless to say, we’re not very deep, so we need to stay out of foul trouble, and then people coming in off the bench need to play hard and contribute.”
For Muldrow, Ray and the rest of the seniors, no matter what happens this weekend, this will be the final Big 12 tournament for them. They can’t think of a better way to close out their careers than to do the improbable for the second straight year.
“We want to go out the same way we did last year, but just to know this is my last time I’ll be playing in OKC in this tournament, it’s kind of like a bittersweet moment,” Ray said. “Obviously, we’re going to give it our all, and I’m personally going to give it my all, and hopefully we can get the same results as last year.”
The Women’s Big 12 Tournament is being held in Oklahoma City for the sixth time. It’s the fourth time in the last five years that the tournament has made Oklahoma City its home.
Single-Session tickets are $25, $20 and $10. All spectators over the age of 2 must have a ticket to enter the arena.
The first session was played on Friday night with the play-in games for No. 7 Iowa State, No. 8 Kansas State, No. 9 Kansas and No. 10 Texas Tech. Two sessions are on Saturday and one session each on Sunday and Monday.
Baylor earned the No. 1 seed after winning its eighth-consecutive and ninth overall Big 12 regular season title. The Lady Bears’ (28-1, 18-0) undefeated conference season was the fifth in Big 12 history.
The rest of the seeds include No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 5 TCU, No. 6 West Virginia, No. 7 Iowa State, No. 8 Kansas State, No. 9 Kansas and No. 10 Texas Tech.
After closing the season by winning six of their last seven games, the Sooners head into the tournament playing at their best.
“It’s not about our record, certainly not about my record, it’s about what can we teach our team,” OU coach Sherri Coale said. “The reason our team has played so well in February is because we played Oregon, UConn, South Dakota State and DePaul in November and December.”
Oklahoma will take on TCU at 11 a.m. Saturday in the first game of the quarterfinals at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. If they win, they will play again at 2 p.m. Sunday in the semifinals.
Eight different teams have won the previous 21 women’s championships, led by Baylor with eight titles.
The tournament will have special themes each night of the event. Saturday is Teacher Appreciation Night Day in which 30 Oklahoma City area teachers from seven different districts will be honored.
The teachers (K-6) were nominated by their students as part of the “My Teacher, My Hero” promotion ran earlier this year in Oklahoma City. The “My Teacher, My Hero” initiative was intended to honor those educators that have made a positive impact on their students’ lives. Each student submitted a 250 words or less essay describing the teachers’ beneficial impact.
Thirty teachers from around the state will be recognized at halftime of the Oklahoma-TCU contest.
Sunday is Military Appreciation Night.
All active duty military, military veterans and teachers with a valid military or school ID can purchase a $5 general admission ticket for each session at the arena box office.
All games will be shown on the Fox Sports Networks.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com