MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No one could have imagined West Virginia and Texas beginning February with losing records, but that is where both teams stand heading into tonight’s important Big Monday clash at the Coliseum.
Normally, at this time of year Bob Huggins and Rick Barnes are positioning their respective teams toward another deep run in post-season play, however, this year youth and inexperience have reared its ugly head for both teams.
Texas (10-11, 2-6), which ranks fourth in the country in field goal percentage defense, has six freshmen that have accounted for 57 percent of the team’s rebounding, 46 percent of its offensive production and more than three-quarters of its assists and blocks.
As a result, the Longhorns are just 1-6 in games decided by six points or less, and in five of those six losses, Texas had the lead within the final three minutes of either regulation or overtime, including a 57-53 overtime setback to the Mountaineers back in Austin on Jan. 9.
The Longhorns are also still in search of their first road victory of the season, dropping all five, including a recent 16-point setback at Oklahoma on Jan. 21.
Sophomore guard Sheldon McClellan has been the most reliable scorer for the Longhorns, pouring in 15 in back-to-back games against TCU and Kansas State and matching his season-high of 25 points in a recent loss at Oklahoma. McClellan is averaging 14.8 points per game, but is shooting only 37.9 percent overall and just 29.6 percent from 3.
Julien Lewis, also a sophomore guard, contributes 11.5 points per game while shooting at a 42.2-percent clip from the floor. After going for 18 in a recent win over Texas Tech, Lewis has scored just 17 points in the Longhorn’s last two games.
Texas is shooting 41.4 percent overall and just 29.9 percent from 3.
West Virginia, too, has been plagued by inconsistent play and an inability to come up with the key plays late in games. In four of its five Big 12 losses this season, the Mountaineers (10-11, 3-5) were within striking distance in the second half, including consecutive one-possession losses to Kansas State and Iowa State.
Freshman Eron Harris
is becoming West Virginia’s most reliable offensive performer, the guard scoring double figures in five of his last six games, including an 18-point performance in the Mountaineers’ 77-61 road win at Texas Tech last Saturday to boost his season scoring average to eight points per game.
Junior center Aaric Murray
, a La Salle transfer, has also given WVU a scoring boost of late, including a 17-point effort in West Virginia’s six-point loss to second-ranked Kansas last Monday night. Murray is averaging a team-best 10.1 points per game.
Like Texas, a substantial portion of West Virginia’s production this year has come from players not on last year’s roster. The Mountaineers’ top four scorers either sat out or were playing in high school last season.
Dayton transfer Juwan Staten
is averaging 9.9 points per game and has had two straight double-digit scoring performances heading into tonight’s game, while freshman guard Terry Henderson
went for 23 in a December loss to Michigan and scored 21 in the Oklahoma defeat last month and is averaging 7.6 points per game.
The Mountaineers are shooting 40.1 percent overall and 30.4 percent from 3.
This will be the second meeting between the two teams this year and the fifth overall in a series that dates back to 1974. All four prior games have been decided by four points or less.
Earlier this year in Austin, West Virginia was able to overcome a 10-point second half deficit to send the game into overtime, and won it in the extra session despite shooting just 30.6 percent from the floor and just 15 percent from 3. Murray’s 12 points and Kevin Noreen
’s 13 rebounds were the deciding factors in the game.
This will be Texas’ first trip to the WVU Coliseum where West Virginia is 6-3 this year, having dropped Big 12 home games to Oklahoma, Kansas and Kansas State so far this season.
Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN (Brent Musburger and Fran Fraschilla). A season-high 12,402 showed up for West Virginia’s last Big Monday game against Kansas last week.
MSN’s radio coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with the Coliseum Countdown. The broadcast can be heard on XM 191 and Sirius 123.