Mountaineers looking to avoid another letdown
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - When last West Virginia suffered a bitter, close loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers followed it two days later with arguably their worst performance of the season in a home loss to Texas.
On the heels of another of those one-that-got-away losses, the obvious goal now is to recover faster and not let one game beat them two times.
No, it's not that the next game is a pushover by any means. It is Tuesday night in Waco, Texas, against a Baylor team that has spent the entire season in the national rankings. The Bears (13-6, 1-5 Big 12) certainly won't still be there when the new Top 25s are released today - losing four in a row and five of six will have dropped Baylor from as high as No. 7 on Jan. 6 to out of the polls altogether - but it is still a quality opponent on the road.
The thing is, no matter the state of the opposition, West Virginia (11-9, 3-4) can't again afford to sulk after a near-miss against a legitimate power. The Mountaineers' 81-75 loss on Saturday at No. 11 Oklahoma State has to be forgotten, and the sooner the better.
Juwan Staten hopes that he and his teammates learned from the last time.
"Well, first of all we have an extra day to relax a little bit, so that's always good,'' said Staten, who with his teammates traveled to Waco right after Saturday's game in Stillwater, Okla., and this time will play on Tuesday instead of the Saturday-Monday turnaround for that game against Texas. "But we've been in this situation before and we know what happened last time.''
Indeed, what happened last time was that the Mountaineers lost to Oklahoma State at the Coliseum after leading with as few as 12 seconds to play, then two days later fell completely flat and lost 80-69 to Texas. At the time that was WVU's most lopsided loss of the season and it wasn't even as close as the score indicated. Then a few days later Kansas State just buried the Mountaineers on the road, 78-56.
West Virginia recovered a bit in beating Texas Tech at home last Wednesday, then once again gave Oklahoma State everything it could handle Saturday. The Mountaineers led most of the first half and at times midway through the second, and with less than a minute to play were a Nathan Adrian 3-point attempt away from tying the game.
Adrian's shot missed and Oklahoma State then made six straight free throws to seal it.
And so once again, as has so many times this season been the case, West Virginia came oh-so-close to finally getting over the hump and beating a quality team. But again, it wasn't close enough, so the challenge again becomes not becoming discouraged.
"We've been here when we lost this game and had to play Texas,'' Staten said. "I don't think anybody wants to let that happen again, so I think we'll be guarded against that.''
The ramifications of yet another loss on Tuesday night at Baylor would be obvious. It would drop the Mountaineers two games below .500 in the Big 12, dangerously close to .500 overall and facing a murderer's row of opponents.
It appeared just a few days ago that WVU's next six games (including OSU) and 10 of the final 12 would be against Top 25 opponents. That will change when Baylor drops out of the rankings and with teams like Kansas State, Oklahoma and even Iowa State in the lower half of the Top 25, the number of games against actual ranked opponents will fluctuate. Then again, one of the teams outside the rankings, Texas, has won three in a row over ranked opponents (in the three games since winning in Morgantown) and could soon be in the Top 25.
The point is that given the nature of the schedule, stealing wins anywhere they are available is crucial. West Virginia has already let two of those slip away against preseason Big 12 co-favorite Oklahoma State, and letting another go against a struggling Baylor team would be another lost opportunity.
"We need to come back 1-1 from this road trip now. We don't want to come down here and lose two games,'' Staten said. "So I think everyone's going to play hard. You'll see a difference.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1