Mountaineers eager to cleanse 'bad taste'
MORGANTOWN - For the second time in just the opening few days of the Big 12 basketball season, West Virginia faces a quick turnaround from a Saturday game to another on Monday.
As far as Bob Huggins is concerned, though, the timing of the games is no big deal.
"I'm more worried about Texas than when we play them,'' the West Virginia coach said.
Indeed, worrying about the timing of games isn't the Mountaineers' biggest concern. Instead, the concern will be trying to put a disappointing loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State in the rear-view mirror quickly enough to concentrate on the task at hand.
West Virginia (10-6, 2-1 Big 12) hosts Texas (12-4, 1-2) in a 7 p.m. game today at the Coliseum. The game will be televised nationally by ESPNU.
It comes on the heels of a 73-72 loss at home on Saturday to Oklahoma State. That was a game the Mountaineers had more than their share of opportunities to win, but didn't. Twice they had the ball with a chance to essentially wrap up the game, first leading by two with 30 seconds to play and then trailing by one with 11 seconds to go. In between they could have accomplished the same goal with a defensive stop.
West Virginia did neither, failing to score both times and giving up a 3-pointer to Markel Brown with 11.6 seconds to play that proved the game-winner. And that was tough to swallow.
"We have to get that bad taste out of our mouths,'' said guard Terry Henderson, whose 21-point, four-assist, six-rebound, three-block performance was wasted. "The worst losses are the [wins] you almost got.''
A win over Oklahoma State would have been huge, of course, and not just in the sense that it would have kept WVU unbeaten in Big 12 play. The fact is, with that narrow loss West Virginia still remains winless in two seasons of league play against teams good enough to finish with a winning record. All six wins last year were against Texas Tech, TCU and Texas, and the two wins so far this season were again against Texas Tech and TCU.
So, is Texas good enough this year to eventually qualify as a team that will finish with a winning record? That's debatable. Yes, the Longhorns are 12-4, but they lost their first two Big 12 games to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and then barely survived Texas Tech on Saturday, winning 67-64 at home.
Texas had few signature wins this season until a week before Christmas, when the Longhorns beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, 86-83. But even though North Carolina has slipped (the Tar Heels are last in the ACC at 0-3), that win for Texas is still better than any win West Virginia has managed to date.
Texas brings to the Coliseum a fairly deep group, a 10-man rotation of primarily sophomores and freshmen with a mix of size and perimeter players, but no real take-control scorer. Jonathan Holmes, a 6-foot-8 junior who is the only upperclassman in the rotation, averages 12.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Guards Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor and 6-9 sophomore center Cameron Ridley all average low double-figures scoring.
That's a change from the team West Virginia faced Saturday, which had three potential game-breakers in Marcus Smart, Le'Bryan Nash and Brown. The Mountaineers' goal now is just to switch gears as quickly as possible and avoid a second straight home loss after opening the league season 2-0 on the road.
"This is one of those bad-taste games you don't want to linger,'' Juwan Staten in the aftermath of Saturday's loss. "You want to get out there and get rid of that taste as soon as you can.''
BRIEFLY: West Virginia leads the series with Texas 3-2 and the five games have been decided by a combined 11 points. Every game has been undecided right up until the last possession of regulation and the widest margin of victory was WVU's 57-53 overtime win in Austin last season.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1