By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University women’s basketball center Ya Ya Dunning put it best.
“It was an ugly win, but I’m pretty sure everyone would take an ugly win over a pretty loss,” she said after the Mountaineers overcame a 36-point effort by Kansas State’s Brittany Chambers and came from behind in the second half to defeat the Wildcats 66-57.
The 36 points were the most points ever scored by K-State player in a conference game and a career high for Chambers, who hit 14 of 25 shots and six of 10 from 3-point range.
“Brittany had a will to find a way to win. Unfortunately, there was no significant product around her,” said coach Deb Patterson.
The Wildcats were playing at a distinct disadvantage as they have all season. Due to injuries, they dressed only seven players, and only six played in the game, making them vulnerable to be worn down by a WVU team that handed them their fourth straight loss while winning its third straight.
In many ways WVU won despite itself.
“You do what you do in practice,” coach Mike Carey said. “We came back from TCU and we were laughing, playing around the last two days. I told the coaches we would come out flat.”
And flat the Mountaineers were in the first half, trailing by eight points as they had one assist and 10 turnovers.
“We were a step slow. We were standing around; they were rebounding everything,” Carey said.
So, at halftime, he had a word or two for his team.
“I’m a nice guy, not a bad guy, and I told them that, but I told them they make me bad guy. I told them don’t take it personal. They’re great girls. They make great grades and I love them to death. But it isn’t about feelings right now.”
Indeed, West Virginia is in the stretch run, playing for position in the Big 12 Tournament and to get into the NCAA Tournament. They are 17-10 and 9-7 in the conference with two games left, and Carey is adamant that he will find five girls who play.
He certainly did that in the second half, as Dunning played big inside, a slumping Christal Caldwell found her shot and hit some key 3s, Jess Harlee took charge both on offense and defense and Linda Stepney canned shots when left open.
The rest was 10 assists and just one turnover in the second half, the reverse of the first, and 43 points scored compared to 23 in the first half.
“Basically, coach told us to get our heads out of our butts,” Harlee said.
It was exactly what she told the team, too, although in perhaps more lady-like terms.
Caldwell wound up making the biggest difference offensively. The team’s leading scorer she had managed just four and two points in her last two games and had made only 3 of her last 24 shots over the last two and a half games before hitting three 3s in the second half.
“I just tried to play through it,” she said. “I tried to do other things, but I knew I had to score for the team and I knew it would eventually come.”
She finished with 15 points, to tie Dunning for the team lead while Harlee had 11 points and Averee Fields had 10.
If the Mountaineers had anything to cheer about at the end of the first half it was that they held at 23-20 lead.
Not over Kansas State.
Over Chambers, who came into the game averaging 19.2 points per game and surpassed that scoring average by halftime with 20 points.
There was no stopping her, no matter what the Mountaineers tried.
She hit eight of 11 field goal tries, some of them as spectacular shots as you’ve ever seen in a women’s game. She made eight field goals, one less than the entire WVU team, four of them from 3-point range and one of those threes from another area code.
Twice she hit driving shots as the shot clock buzzer was going off, once on a shot that was half hook, half drive, half luck and half prayer.
With it all, WVU was just down eight at the half, 31-23, and the Mountaineers had themselves as much to blame as Chambers.
Dunning was doing the most damage for WVU on the inside, hitting all four shots she took for eight points at the intermission.
The Mountaineers close out the home season and say goodbye to Dunning, the only senior, against the nation’s top team, Baylor, and the top player, Brittney Griner, at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.