Talbot: Lady Raiders step up with win over West Virginia

The court wasn’t rushed like it was a week before when the Red Raiders beat the Mountaineers.

But, maybe it should have been.

Usually, I am not an advocate for that kind of stuff. I’ve always believed in the mantra, “act like you’ve won before.” But for the Lady Raiders, the 75-66 win over West Virginia was more than just a Big 12 win.

It was an announcement. I’ve said many times throughout the preseason, that Texas Tech women’s basketball is back — that they had the talent and only needed time to prove it.

Texas Tech coach Candi Whitaker knew it too.

“We have been telling recruits and everyone that we are going to be better, and to watch us, but we have to show that and prove that,” Whitaker said after the win. “This win over a talented, athletic team shows that.”

Until Wednesday, the Lady Raiders really hadn’t done that, though. They were 0-5 on the road and hadn’t beaten a ranked team since Jan. 19, 2013. The road mark is still there, a blight, on an otherwise solid campaign so far for the Lady Raiders.

The losing streak against team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 women’s basketball poll, though, is gone.The Mountaineers were ranked No. 18 in the country. They were 14-2 and one of the top three teams in the Big 12, having already defeated Oklahoma, which Tech plays on Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma. Only Texas and Baylor appeared to be better.

Now, though, the Lady Raiders have put themselves into the conversation of “after Baylor, who is the top team in the conference?” Sure, they got manhandled by Texas and lost on the road to Kansas State.

But, with home wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia they are at least a part of the discussion (along with the Sooners, Mountaineers and Wildcats). They are in fifth place, right behind Kansas State, who is also 3-2 in conference.

This team has the moxie to get a few things done in the Big 12 and maybe even pull an upset of one of the top teams— especially on their home court, where they have won their first 10 games this season.

And they had to rally for each of their three Big 12 wins, the most striking coming Wednesday against West Virginia.

The Mountaineers jumped ahead 10-0 and looked like they were going to cruise to another easy win over the Lady Raiders — they beat Tech by an average of 24.5 points a game last season.

Didn’t happen.

Tech shut West Virginia down in the second quarter, holding them to 17.6 percent shooting and at one point early in the fourth quarter, led by 17 points.

“The saying that we like to go by is that ‘If we get punched in the mouth, we don’t give up,” said Zuri Sanders, who recovered from a torn ACL in record time and played in her first game of the season against the Mountaineers. “That definitely happened tonight. We got punched with 10 points, and we didn’t give up. I think that really showed tonight.”

And that’s what this team does that makes it (gasp!) a solid NCAA tournament team — they perform when it matters most.

“I really have confidence that if our team is in a close game in the fourth quarter, they are going to find a way to win,” Whitaker said. “They have done that, and they have confidence in that. … We knew they were going to run it at us, attack lanes, get Tynice (Martin) involved and get it to Lanay (Montgomery). They did that, but we were able to weather the storm.”

Yes, it is early.

But, the Lady Raiders belong. They haven’t feasted on weaker competition like Kansas and TCU, which are a combined 0-10 in conference play. Those wins will come later — as will two showdowns with Baylor that aren’t likely to go well. The Lady Bears are still the Lady Bears, having lost only to, yes, UConn.

But, Texas Tech might just be Texas Tech again.

A road win at Oklahoma would help cement that growing fact.

“I hope (the West Virginia win will lead to that),” Whitaker said. “A win like this proves to them that their hard work is paying off. They have to experience that to really believe in it and build on it.”

But, that too is just a matter of time.

 

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