Mountaineers, Longhorns to Hook Up in KC
KANSAS CITY - West Virginia has to be wondering which Texas team it will be facing in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City tonight.
Will it be the one that had little trouble disposing of the Mountaineers during the regular season or the one that lost by six last weekend at Texas Tech to end the regular season?
The very good Texas team that won 22 games, finished third in the Big 12 and is a lock for the NCAA tournament swept the season series against West Virginia, winning by 11 in Morgantown on Jan. 13 and by 17 in Austin on Feb. 15.
In both instances, Texas was able to exploit the Mountaineers in transition, especially during the game in Austin.
“Our transition defense was not very good,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We turned the ball over excessively and we just didn’t guard. We gave up so many straight-line drives. We told our bigs that they couldn’t get pushed up the lane and they had to get back under and they never got back under. We just didn’t play very well.”
The Longhorns also killed West Virginia on the glass and got balanced scoring throughout their lineup. Four Texas players reached double figures in the victory in Morgantown and five topped double digits a month later in Austin.
Sophomore guard Javan Felix was the catalyst in both victories, scoring a team-high 19 in the first game and following that up with a team-best 18 the second time around.
“He’s quick and he goes both ways and you can’t really shade a side on him,” said Huggins. “You’ve pretty much got to play him head up. He’s really good at taking you hard, getting you on your heels and then stopping, pulling up and making shots. Against us he shot it really well from 3.”
Six-nine, 285-pound sophomore forward Cameron Ridley was also a load for the Longhorns, going for a double-double in Morgantown (12 points and 12 rebounds) and scoring 17 on 6 of 8 shooting in the second win in Austin.
Twice, Texas had double-digit leads at halftime.
“The team that wins generally has the most easy baskets and they’ve got just a bunch of easy baskets against us,” noted Huggins.
For West Virginia to turn the tables tonight, it’s clearly going to have to modify its approach, starting with the way the Mountaineers will attempt to try and slow down Felix.
He is the team’s third-leading scorer heading into tonight’s game, but he has been mired in a 5-for-26 shooting slump over his last three games, including a 3-for-11 shooting performance in the Texas Tech loss. The Longhorns shot just 35.1 percent against the Red Raiders after making only 39.3 percent of their field goal attempts in a 12-point win over TCU.
West Virginia has to hope that cold shooting continues tonight in Kansas City.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are coming off their best performance of the season in a 92-86 victory over eighth-ranked Kansas last Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.
The win, coupled with Oklahoma State’s loss at Iowa State, propelled the Mountaineers into the sixth seed for this year’s tournament ahead of the Cowboys and Baylor, both projected NCAA tournament locks.
West Virginia, at 17-14 overall, most likely has to win at least two games here in Kansas City to even warrant serious consideration for an at-large bid.
Last Saturday against league champion Kansas, West Virginia got 28 points from guard Eron Harris, 24 from guard Juwan Staten and a 22-point, 13-rebound effort from freshman forward Devin Williams.
Williams’ performance against Kansas was big because he was almost non-existent in West Virginia’s pair of losses to Texas, scoring only 2 points in each game. If he can give the Mountaineers some type of scoring threat from the forward position tonight that might open things up a little bit more for West Virginia’s perimeter players.
“He’s the best guy we have if you’re talking about trying to drag those bigs away from the basket,” said Huggins. “He’s probably our most consistent shooter from the 15, 17-foot range.”
The return of guard Terry Henderson should help as well. Henderson missed four games because of an undisclosed illness before returning to the floor for the Kansas victory. The sophomore guard didn’t score a bunch, recording just 4 points in 15 minutes of action, but he did force Kansas to account for him on the floor because of his ability to shoot outside. Henderson is the team’s third-leading scorer averaging 11.8 points per game.
“I thought he gave us good minutes (against Kansas),” said Huggins. “I don’t know how many he’s going to be capable of giving us. We’ve got to play that by ear.
“When he’s out there it spreads people more, which helps (West Virginia’s other guards),” Huggins added. “When he came in the game they couldn’t leave him the way they were leaving other people.”
Staten, an all-Big 12 first team selection, is averaging a team-best 18.4 points per game and still has a shot of becoming the first player in school history to score more than 600 points, grab more than 200 rebounds and hand out more than 200 assists in the same season. He is already the only Mountaineer player to score 500 points, dish out more than 150 assists and grab more than 150 rebounds in the same year.
Harris shows an average of 17.9 points per game while hitting a team-best 86 3s. He has 11 20-point-plus games heading into the Big 12 tournament, including scoring 21 against the Longhorns in Austin.
Williams is working on a streak of three straight double-doubles heading into tonight’s game while boosting his season averages to 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest.
The game is scheduled to tip off at 9:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on the Big 12 Network. The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG’s coverage will begin with the pregame show at 9 p.m.
The winner of tonight’s game will face the winner of Oklahoma-Baylor on Friday night at 8:30 p.m.
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