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No. 24 West Virginia survives down the stretch to defeat No. 23 Oklahoma, 70-66

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia has relied on its starting five for the bulk of its success throughout the 2023-24 season.

In perhaps the most important game of the season to date Saturday, it was the Mountaineers’ bench that made all the difference, helping lead 24th-ranked West Virginia to a 70-66 victory against No. 23 Oklahoma before 3,715 inside the WVU Coliseum.

“I’m going to enjoy the way it happened,” first-year West Virginia head coach Mark Kellogg said. “For the bench to have that night was long overdue for this group.”

Six-foot-2 fifth-year senior Tavy Diggs led three WVU bench players with 12 points, while fellow reserve Jayla Hemingway made all six of her free-throw attempts and added nine points and Danelle Arigbabu, much like Diggs, provided a lift in the paint with six points and four rebounds.

In all, the WVU bench outscored Oklahoma’s, 27-10.

Diggs made 6-of-9 field-goal attempts and contributed half of her scoring output in the fourth quarter, which the Mountaineers (22-3, 11-3) entered trailing, 48-47.

“Tavy Diggs was the difference in the game,” Sooners’ head coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “We didn’t have an answer. She had some really tough finishes and she was really good. We needed to be better in the interior and in the paint.”

It was the second 12-point effort from Diggs in Big 12 play this season, and it allowed her to equal her point total from the previous four games, which included a scoreless outing over 17 minutes in Tuesday’s win at TCU — where Diggs spent three seasons before coming to Morgantown.

“It says a lot and means a lot. In practice, we’re working hard and staying positive with each other knowing it could be our moment at any time,” Diggs said of the collective mindset of the reserves. “ I’m proud of Jayla and Danelle. We’ve grown a lot and every day you have to stay ready because everybody is not always going to have a good game.”

JJ Quinerly opened the fourth-quarter scoring with a follow-up basket to put the Mountaineers in front, before Hemingway and Oklahoma’s Neveah Tot traded three-pointers, leaving WVU with a 52-51 lead and 7:30 to play.

Diggs accounted for two of the Mountaineers next three field goals, including a second-chance basket with 4:50 left that enabled left the Sooners (18-7, 12-2) facing a 58-54 deficit.

Diggs’ last basket came at the 2:09 mark in response to a pair of Lexy Keys free throws, and it allowed West Virginia to double its advantage to 62-58.

“To Tavy’s credit, that fadeaway fell enough. It’s not my favorite, but as long as it’s going in, it’s always my favorite,” Kellogg said.

However, Oklahoma’s Payton Verhulst, who led all players with six triples and 20 points, made her final three off a scramble and pulled OU to within a point with 1:56 left.

After Quinerly split two free throws, she connected on a mid-range jumper with 57 seconds left, and two free throws from Hemingway left WVU with what appeared to be a comfortable six-point lead with 46 seconds remaining. The advantage grew to seven when Jordan Harrison made 1-of-2 free throws with 28 seconds remaining, but Tot scored five points in 11 seconds to bring the Sooners to within two with 9 seconds remaining.

Diggs, who had attempted only 13 free throws all season, then missed two foul shots, allowing the Sooners a chance to tie or go in front.

Out of a timeout, Tot received the inbound pass and had room to operate on a drive to the basket which she was fouled by Harrison on. However, Tot missed the first free throw and while trying to intentionally miss the second, she made it, only for the point to be waved off due to a violation on the shooter for entering the paint prematurely.

Harrison then sealed the outcome by making two free throws with less than a second to play.

“That’s one of the plays we’ll play over and over,” Baranczyk said of the final sequence. “[Missing the second free throw is] your only option at that point]. I’d put her on the line again if I had to. This is part of growing.”

The Mountaineers’ worst stretch came in the opening minutes of the contest when Oklahoma built leads of 8-0 and 11-3.

Kyah Watson, who played all 40 minutes, connected on a triple with 3:42 left in the opening frame to cut the Sooners’ lead to 11-6. WVU went on to score 12 points the remainder of the period, which ended with the teams tied at 18.

“I got into them pretty good,” said Kellogg, who called a timeout 2:23 into the matchup. “That was one of my more passionate speeches. We just needed to settle down. We were overly excited. The response was great and we settled in quickly.“

Arigbabu scored four points in the first quarter and then the first basket of the second to give WVU its first lead.

“Our bench was fantastic today. That hasn’t happened a ton this year,” Kellogg said.

The Mountaineers led 26-20 after Quinerly scored off a turnover, but the Sooners outscored the Mountaineers 12-5 over the final 3:58 of the half, and used a Verhulst triple on their final possession to lead 32-31 at halftime.

While OU shot 12 for 28 in the opening half, it made 7 of 11 from long range.

“They share it and move the ball better than any team we’ve played all year. They gave us everything and more,” Kellogg said.

Quinerly finished with a team-high 18 points, 11 of which she scored in the second half. She did not have a second-half turnover after finishing with five in the opening half.

Diggs, Watson (11) and Harrison (10) were other double-figure scorers in the win. Although Harrison made only 2-of-10 field-goal attempts, she had nine of the game’s 23 assists, six rebounds and four steals.

“I’m going to do whatever my team needs to help us win. I’m not worried about stats,” Harrison said.

WVU forced 25 turnovers, which helped lead to a 23-9 edge in points off turnovers. That helped to offset the Sooners’ 41-31 rebounding advantage, which was keyed by Skylar Vann’s 14 boards.

Vann and Keys scored 11 points apiece and Tot contributed 12 in defeat.

Oklahoma, which had won nine straight, made 13-of-21 threes, but only 11-of-36 shots inside the arc.

“Even though we can shoot the ball, we don’t rely on it,” Baranczyk said. “Today, it kept us in it, but we needed a lot more from the interior.”

Oklahoma entered Saturday with a two-game lead over West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas in the Big 12 standings.

The Mountaineers are at K-State on Wednesday.

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