Martin leads up­set by Moun­taineers for first Big 12 ti­tle

West Vir­ginia hadn’t won con­fer­ence ti­tle since 1989 in A-10.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Cliff Brunt

West Vir­ginia en­tered the Big 12 women’s tour­na­ment on the bub­ble for an NCAA bid. It left it with an au­to­matic berth.

Tyn­ice Martin scored 32 points, help­ing the Moun- taineers beat No. 2 Bay­lor 77-66 in the Big 12 fi­nal Mon­day night.

West Vir­ginia last won a con­fer­ence tour­na­ment in 1989, when it was part of the At­lantic 10. There was no rea­son to be­lieve things would change this year, not with West Vir­ginia limp­ing into the tour­na­ment with five losses in its pre­vi­ous nine games.

The Moun­taineers turned it around at Ch­esa- peake En­ergy Arena. They ad­vanced to the fi­nal with Top 25 vic­to­ries over Ok­la­homa and Texas, and West Vir­ginia coach Mike Carey saw no rea­son to stop there.

“They knew com­ing down here that we had to win at least one, two games (to get an NCAA bid), and I told ’em af­ter the sec­ond game, ‘Hell, we might as well win the third one since we’re here,’” he said. “And they came out and played ex­tremely hard and con­tin­ued to play de­fense the whole time.”

Martin, a sopho­more guard, set a tour­na­ment record for most points in a cham­pi­onship game and was named the most out­stand­ing player.

She av­er­aged 27.3 points in three games, the third-high- est av­er­age in tour­na­ment his­tory.

“It feels amaz­ing to aver- age what I av­er­aged this tour- na­ment,” Martin said. “But when you have good prac- tices and when you have my team­mates be­hind me say­ing, ‘No­body can guard you,’ and my coach say­ing, ‘At­tack them,’ you have no choice but to do what they say and to be­lieve in your­self.”

Teana Muldrow added 15 points for West Vir­ginia (23-10).

Kalani Brown scored 19 points and Kristy Wallace had 17 points and nine re­bounds for Bay­lor (30-3), which had won the last six con­fer­ence tour­na­ments.

The Lady Bears had won seven in a row against West Vir­ginia, but the Moun­tain- eers lost by just six at Bay­lor on Feb. 6 in their pre­vi­ous meet­ing and played with con­fi­dence from the start in the fi­nal.

Martin scored 11 points in the first quar­ter to help West Vir­ginia take a 22-14 lead. West Vir­ginia’s big­gest lead was 21 points in the third quar­ter.

Bay­lor coach Kim Mulkey was pleased that the Lady Bears cut it to six in the fourth quar­ter, but she wished her team didn’t wait so long to turn up the in­ten­sity.

“If you play with that sense of ur­gency when the game started, and you get ev­ery loose ball and you’re pro­duc­tive the first five min­utes of the game, you might not have lost,” she said. — Hous­ton Rock­ets’ James Har­den.

Leonard outscored Har­den 17-4 in the fi­nal quar­ter as the Spurs ral­lied for a 112-110 vic­tory over the Rock­ets. Leonard and Har­den each had 39 points.

Har­den, a daz­zling, crafty scorer who also leads the NBA in as­sists, is con­sid­ered the front-run­ner for the award af­ter trans­form­ing the Rock­ets into gen­uine Western Con­fer­ence con­tenders.

Ok­la­homa City’s Rus­sell West­brook, whose Thun­der wel­come the Spurs to Ch­e­sa­peake En­ergy Arena on Thurs­day, is on pace to join Os­car Robert­son as the only play­ers in NBA his­tory to av­er­age a triple-double.

Two-time MVP Stephen Curry, some­thing of an af­ter­thought in this year’s race, brings his Golden State War­riors to the AT&T Cen­ter on Satur­day.

Later this month, Leonard and the Spurs will get a look at four-time win­ner LeBron James when Cleve­land comes to town March 27.

If you think Leonard is eye­ing the week to come as a plat­form from which to launch a fi­nal MVP push, you don’t know Leonard.

“We’re just try­ing to get bet­ter as a team, keep mov­ing for­ward,” said Leonard, who is av­er­ag­ing 32 points, nine re­bounds and four steals in four March games. “We’re think­ing about our­selves, re­ally, not who we’re about to play against.”

Last year’s run­ner-up to Curry for the Mau­rice Podoloff Tro­phy, Leonard has of late be­gun to bur­nish his MVP cre­den­tials any­way.

He is av­er­ag­ing 26.1 points, the most for a Spurs player since David Robin­son logged 27.6 per game dur­ing his MVP sea­son of 1994-95.

Leonard has posted 22 30-point games, most in a sea­son for any Spur ex­cept for Robin­son and Ge­orge Gervin.

He has done it while re­main­ing one of the league’s most fear­some perime­ter de­fend­ers, av­er­ag­ing nearly two steals per game and lock­ing up an op­po­nent’s best player each night.

Put an­other way, Leonard is a two-time NBA de­fen­sive player of the year in the throes of a bet­ter of­fen­sive sea­son than the great Tim Dun­can ever pro­duced.

As the glit­ter­ing box score lines have be­gun to pile up for Leonard, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has be­come coy about overly laud­ing his 25-year-old su­per­star.

“I try not to praise Kawhi too much,” Popovich said with a gleam.

“He’s get­ting paid to do that.”

Even so, Popovich will not deny Leonard be­longs at the epi­cen­ter of the MVP con- ver­sa­tion.

In their first sea­son with­out Dun­can, the Spurs are 48-13 with a bet­ter-than-de- cent chance of steal­ing the No. 1 seed in the Western Con­fer­ence, and they have only one All-Star. That’s Leonard. “There’s so few of those peo­ple who play at that level at both ends,” Popovich said. “He’s earned a lot of re­spect and what­ever ac­co­lades he gets, he’s earned it.”

Satur­day’s 97-90 over­time vic­tory over Min­nesota pro­vided am­ple ev­i­dence of Leonard’s dom­i­nance in both phases of the game.

He posted 34 points, 10 re­bounds and six steals, be­com­ing only the sec­ond Spurs player in his­tory to ac­crue those to­tals. Alvin Robert­son ac­com­plished that against the Lak­ers in Novem­ber 1986.

That Leonard started Satur­day 3 for 10, and en­tered the fourth quar­ter with only 14 points, was not lost on his Spurs team­mates.

“He can make a bad night look re­ally good quickly,” guard Danny Green said.

“He can turn it on in a mat­ter of se­conds. Some­how, some way, he is go­ing to find a rhythm.”

Though Leonard’s MVP push has flown un­der the radar, op­pos­ing coaches are well aware of his can­di­dacy.

His “two-way­ness” makes Leonard spe­cial.

“You don’t want to say Michael Jor­dan,” New Or­leans coach Alvin Gen­try said, “but it is that type of sit­u­a­tion where you have a re­ally, re­ally good of­fen­sive player and a tremen­dous de­fen­sive player.

“He def­i­nitely has to be heav­ily in the con­ver­sa­tion for MVP.”

For now, the award seems to be Har­den’s to lose. If he does, it will prob­a­bly be West­brook who swipes it.

Leonard, de­spite his ster­ling re­sume, re­mains a dark horse.

If Leonard does end up winning his first NBA MVP award, how­ever, this much is cer­tain: Some­one is go­ing to have to find him to tell him about it.

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