LAWRENCE, Kan. - There was a time this season when West Virginia would have had no chance to beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
Bob Huggins might not have admitted so at the time and surely he would have done all he could to prepare the Mountaineers, but deep down even he would have known it was probably a fruitless task.
Well, 24 games into the season, West Virginia (14-9, 6-4 Big 12) gets a chance to do just that today, facing the Jayhawks (17-5, 8-1) in a game in a venerable old building that is one of college basketball's landmarks. The 4 p.m. contest will be televised by ESPN.
Some - perhaps most - will argue that West Virginia still doesn't stand much of a chance against the Jayhawks. After all, this is a Kansas team that is No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, No. 1 in the Rating Percentage Index and has a roster that might include the top two picks in June's NBA draft. Oh, and when last WVU played in Lawrence, last year's team left on the short end of a 91-65 blowout.
But two things give the Mountaineers hope, and they are joined at the hip. First, there is the matter of the Mountaineers now having 23 games in the books, time in which freshmen have matured and the team has begun to come together.
And second is that WVU has won three games in a row now for only the second time since joining the Big 12, this streak against Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma considerably more impressive than one a year ago against Texas Tech, Texas and TCU. Obviously, the experience and maturity West Virginia has gained has been a factor in the recent surge.
In other words, the Mountaineers are certainly in better position now to play a game like this than two months ago.
"That's the hope,'' Huggins said Friday. "And I think we are.''
The reason experience and maturity matter for the Mountaineers is that, quite simply, those qualities are the only things that might allow West Virginia to compete with Kansas. As far pure talent and even coaching is concerned, the Jayhawks are just hard to beat.
"We have to control the game as best we possibly can,'' Huggins said. "Don't give them run-outs [and allow the Jayhawks to control the pace with their athleticism]. We have to control the game.''