Mountaineers, Bears to Tangle On Saturday
The way West Virginia coach Bob Huggins sees it, what makes Baylor go is not so much its talented set of twin towers Isaiah Austin and Corey Jefferson, super versatile forward Royce O’Neal, or sweet-shooting guard Brady Heslip.
No, according to Huggins, what makes Baylor so difficult to deal with is actually the smallest guy in Baylor’s starting lineup: 5-foot-11-inch point guard Kenny Chery.
As Chery goes so goes the Bears, says college basketball’s third winningest active coach.
“He started out playing really well and he got hurt and didn’t play quite as well for a stretch, and now he’s starting to play really well again,” said Huggins. “When he plays really well they’re really good.”
The numbers certainly bear that out. In Baylor’s first 13 games the Montreal, Quebec resident was averaging nearly 12 points per game, including a pair of 20-point performances against Louisiana-Lafayette and Northwestern State. Baylor was 12-1 during that span of games.
Then in the middle of the season Chery struggled, producing just 3 points in games against Kansas and TCU and failing to score against Oklahoma. At one point Baylor lost eight of 10 games, including a 66-64 decision to West Virginia in Waco during which Chery actually had one of his better performances, scoring 10 points and handing out four assists.
But in Baylor’s most three recent games against TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, Chery has been his old self again with 20 in a double-overtime win against the Wildcats and then reaching double digits once more in Monday night’s overtime victory over the Cowboys. Huggins says when Chery is scoring that puts additional pressure on defenses.
“Everybody has to guard Heslip, but when you have to guard (Chery), I think that really opens things up for their bigs,” said Huggins.
Jefferson (13.5 ppg.) and Austin (11 ppg.) are among the most athletic and talented post tandems in the country. The two have combined to block 116 shots so far this year and both are averaging better than 5.8 boards per game. Baylor has an eight-rebound advantage over its opponents this year and West Virginia saw firsthand against Texas what a talented front line can get done.
The Longhorns once again killed West Virginia on the glass, 41-26, and they had a staggering 46-14 points-in-the-paint advantage while shooting 57.9 percent for the game. If Baylor comes anywhere close to shooting that number against West Virginia on Saturday then it will be a long afternoon for the Mountaineers.
Both teams are seeking wins to remain in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid. Baylor has gotten back in the mix at 17-9, but the Bears still need to add more conference wins to their résumé to be safe.
West Virginia, at 15-11, simply needs to keep winning games to keep its bubble from bursting. Huggins has spelled it out for his young team; specifically, getting a victory against Baylor on Saturday would be extremely helpful to the cause.
“I think Baylor is somewhere in the mid-50s in the RPI and I think when the season is over they will be a top 50, so that’s a great win for you to have a top 50 win. Hopefully, we play well and take care of business on Saturday,” he said.
In reality, West Virginia actually needs to take care of business not only on Saturday but beyond as well.
“We’ve got to win games. It’s no secret,” Huggins said. “We won some games to get back in the hunt, and then we didn’t play very well at Texas.”
Until last Saturday, West Virginia had been on a little bit of a roll, winning by 25 against nationally ranked Iowa State at the Coliseum and claiming three out of four during one stretch. Then, the Mountaineers lost by 17 at Texas last Saturday night and they’ve had a week to digest the loss.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for most of the teams in the Big 12 this season, with the exception of 11-2 Kansas, which now owns a two-game lead over 9-4 Texas in the conference standings. After that, there are four teams within one win of each other, including 7-6 West Virginia, and then there is 5-8 Baylor trying to finish out the regular season strong to get back over .500 in league play.
It’s obvious that on any given day just about any one can win in the Big 12 this year.
“I think when you only have 10 teams I think that magnifies it,” said Huggins. “The Big East was terrific one through 10, but the other six never had a chance so everybody kind of beat up on them. In this league it’s almost like playing an NCAA tournament game all the time because it comes down to matchups.
“If you really look, some teams play really good against other teams and I think a lot of that has to do with the matchups for the winning team(s) are advantageous.”
Following an idle week, the regular season finishes up in a flurry for the Mountaineers with five games coming in the next 16 days. Huggins said his guys used this week to rest and get healed.
“Everybody’s kind of got some bumps, bruises and nicks and this is the time for us to get healed up for a good stretch run,” he said.
The stretch run begins with what is shaping up to be a massive game against Baylor.
Tipoff is set for 1:47 and the contest will be televised on the Big 12 Network. The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG will handle the radio broadcast on affiliates throughout the Mountain State.
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