NORMAN, Okla. - The West Virginia University women's basketball team dropped a 71-68 decision to No. 17/16 Oklahoma in its Big 12 opener Wednesday at the Lloyd Noble Center.
"Give Oklahoma credit - they fought back," coach Mike Carey said. "We got into foul trouble and we just have to do a better job of defending without fouling. We didn't do a good job on the boards and when we let them tie it, we kind of got shook up. You can't put them at the line 39 times and win a game."
The Mountaineers (8-4, 0-1) held the lead until the final 4:55 of the game when the Sooners (11-2, 1-0) pulled away from the eighth tie with a free throw by Aaryn Ellenberg, 61-60. That free throw sparked a 7-0 Oklahoma run down to the 2:35 mark. WVU never quit as a 3-pointer by Brooke Hampton made it a one-point game at 68-67 and 1:19 to play. The Mountaineers missed three field goal attempts, while the Sooners converted three free throw shots to hold on until the end.
WVU went into the locker room at halftime with a 39-36 lead and stretched it to as many as nine points, 47-38, at the 15:32 mark, but fouls proved costly as the Sooners recorded 31 points from the free throw line, shooting 79.5 percent (31-39) for the game. The Mountaineers only saw the line 13 times, converting 69.2 percent (9-13).
"I thought our girls came out and played hard, I really did. Just the last five minutes we didn't play smart. We cut it to one and didn't box out," Carey explained. "Taylor (Palmer) came out and shot extremely well. She was under control and had a lot of good looks."
Junior guard Taylor Palmer carried the Mountaineers with the second 30-point game of her career, including 24 first half points, matching a career-best eight threes in the game. Early foul trouble kept leading scorers Christal Caldwell and Ayana Dunning on the bench, but Caldwell still managed to chip in nine points in 16 minutes. Akilah Bethel and Jess Harlee provided a spark off the bench with seven and six points, respectively. Harlee led WVU with six rebounds, while Dunning chipped in five.
"Christal Caldwell is another scorer for us and she was out of the game with foul trouble and that really hurt us scoring-wise. YaYa Dunning is another one we usually go inside to and she was out with foul trouble," Carey said. "I thought our other girls came in off the bench and played hard and I thought Oklahoma played hard, so there are going to be some great games in the Big 12."
The Mountaineers shot 40 percent (14-25) in the opening half, and faltered to only 32.4 percent (11-34) from the field in the second half, totaling 36.2 percent for the game with 25 field goals to OU's 19. Oklahoma hit 43.2 percent of its shots on 19-of-44 shooting.
WVU was out-rebounded 44-31 and lost the battle in the paint 32-24. The Mountaineers limited their turnovers to 14, while forcing 21 turnovers on the Sooners. Palmer led WVU from beyond the arc with 8-of-12 shooting, while Hampton chipped in another trey for 40.9 percent from 3-point range. The Sooners recorded 25 percent (2-8) from downtown, with Morgan Hook and Sharane Campbell accounting for one 3-pointer each.
The Sooners were led in scoring by Ellenberg with 19 points. Ellenberg was 9-of-10 from the free throw line, while shooting 5-of-12 from the field. Campbell added 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the line and 3-of-11 shooting from the field. Six-foot-three Joanna McFarland led all players in rebounding with 13, followed by Campbell with 12.
The Mountaineers return home for a 7:30 p.m. matchup with Kansas on Saturday, Jan. 5 at the WVU Coliseum.