MORGANTOWN — When the West Virginia snow melts and the harsh winds give way to a gentle spring breeze, the 15th-ranked WVU women’s basketball team may look back on its 76-74 overtime loss against TCU on Jan. 13 with a haunting feeling.
Leading by 18 points midway through the third quarter and needing a win to keep pace with the upper echelon of Big 12 teams, the Mountaineers could do very little as the Horned Frogs came up with two terrific scoring plays by forward Amy Okonkwo off inbounds passes, including an open 3-pointer with four seconds left, for the win.
“We had the game won two different times,” WVU head coach Mike Carey said. “We had one in regulation that we made a defensive mistake, and the one in overtime, we don’t step out on the girl who we told them that could shoot the 3.”
This loss may hurt the Mountaineers (15-3, 3-3 Big 12) more come March than it does now.
That’s when the NCAA selection committee will decide the Mountaineers’ fate for the NCAA tournament, as far as seeding and possibly even hosting first- and second-round games.
In front of a season-high 3,139 fans inside the WVU Coliseum, WVU raced out to 41-29 halftime lead and then increased it to 49-31, with 5:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Naomi Davenport was a big reason why. She scored all 17 of her points by the end of the third quarter, and the Mountaineers were getting enough scoring from Teana Muldrow and Kristina King to keep the Horned Frogs (12-5, 3-3) off balance.
Then came the disaster.
“Our girls dug in and continued to fight for each other,” TCU head coach Raegan Pebley said. “What we talked about was having no excuses. We told them that they had more to give. We challenged them.
“Our players had the choice to respond or not, and tonight they responded.”
Did they ever.
TCU, which beat No. 7 Texas on Wednesday, has now knocked off two consecutive top 25 teams for the first time since 2004.
The Horned Frogs outscored the Mountaineers, 29-16, in the fourth quarter and in overtime, while WVU went cold, shooting just 6 of 16 (38 percent) from the floor at the same time.
WVU also combined for 10 costly turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime. Making matters worse, Davenport fouled out of the game with 8:41 remaining, when she got tied up with TCU guard Jayde Woods.
Both players gave each other a stare-down along the baseline after scrapping for a loose ball and were whistled for a double technical, which also counted as Davenport’s fifth foul.
“I couldn’t take anybody out after that, which creates a problem,” Carey said. “She got the technical, which was her fifth. We’ve got to be smarter than that.”
Okonkwo, TCU’s leading scorer wrapped up in a bulky 6-foot-2 frame, came alive late and simply didn’t care that the Mountaineers led for 39 minutes and 11 seconds in regulation.
Her first big play came with four seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.
After Chania Ray knocked down two free throws to give WVU a 68-66 lead, TCU called a timeout to automatically advance the ball, then Okonkwo hauled in Kianna Ray’s long inbounds pass in the paint and scored to tie the game.
“We should never have switched with Chania on their post player,” Carey said. “We should have never switched that.”
In overtime, Chania Ray’s mid-range jumper gave the Mountaineers a 74-73 lead with 1:08 left, and WVU survived two drives to the basket by Toree Thompson in the final minute.
Thompson’s second miss — with nine seconds left — saw Muldrow grab the rebound, but she was immediately surrounded by TCU players going after the ball.
It was called a jump ball and the possession went back to the Horned Frogs, which set up Okonkwo’s game-winner.
“I don’t blame Teana at all,” Carey said. “They’ve got to start grabbing at the ball or foul. If she were to start [swinging her elbows], they probably give her a technical. It’s a tough situation. She was trying to call time out.”
On the game-winner, Okonkwo, a 41 percent 3-point shooter, stepped back behind the arc and Amber Ramirez found her with a long inbounds pass.
“We just had a couple of people who were not playing intense and were not ready to play,” Chania Ray said about the two inbounds plays. “It wasn’t anything special. I don’t even know if there was a screen [on the 3-pointer]. She popped out there and she was open.”
Okonkwo finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Ray added 17 points for the Mountaineers.