Down The Stretch: Road Swing Critical To WVU Regular Season Finish
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — West Virginia recently just played consecutive conference games against the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the country — Baylor and Kansas — so you might say they have already gone through the most crucial two-game stretch of the season.
Head coach Bob Huggins isn’t quite so sure of that, though.
To Huggins, it just might be that this weekend’s two-game Texas swing that has them playing at TCU at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at Texas at 7 p.m. on Monday might be more critical.
“I think they are because of the situation we put ourselves in,” Huggins said, meaning a recent 3-game losing streak to Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor that left them at 7-6 in league play. “You can’t lose three in a row in any league and not think you have some making up to do. A bye in the conference tournament is important. Four games in four days is tough.”
The two games carry a different importance, too, although it doesn’t really have a bearing upon this season and their position in the post-season.
Instead, a victory would give them 20 victories, a significant leap forward after a 15-21 season last year and a signal to opponents that WVU is back.
And a victory would also move Huggins past coaching legend Dean Smith and alone into sixth place in all-time victories with 880.
But first things first, and that is taking care of business at TCU.
The Horned Frogs are 14-12 and 5-8 in Big 12 play, but any time Huggins goes against former Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon it is a battle.
That makes this a dangerous game, even if TCU has lost seven of its last eight games.
While at Pitt, Dixon provided a big time obstacle to WVU teams, going 14-2, but since moving to his alma mater at TCU Dixon is just 2-7 against the Mountaineers while Huggins has gone 14-2 against TCU since returning to his alma mater, WVU.
TCU also plays well at home, owning a 12-4 record there while winning four of six conference games in Schollmaier Arena.
TCU fell easily in the Morgantown meeting between these two teams, WVU pulling off an 81-49 drubbing of the Horned Frogs.
In that game the Mountaineers took advantage of its size and had its best shooting game of the season, hitting 30 of 52 shots for 57.7% from the field while controlling the Frogs’ attack that is built on the 3-point shot.
“They’re set up to shoot 3-pointers.” Huggins said before departing for Texas. “That’s how they think they can score. Kevin Samuel’s has gotten better but I don’t think they have a big they can throw the ball to.”
Samuel hit three of four shots against WVU but the Mountaineer big men kept him from being a factor.
The Mountaineer defense also shut the door on Desmond Bane, who scored only 13 points in the game and managed to get off just eight shots.
“He’s really good,” Huggins said. “He’s the leading scorer in the league. He has great range on his shot. He’s done a great job of working on his game.”
Bane actually is second to Kansas’ Devon Dotson with his 15.9 point per game average, but Huggins’ point is that he is the man WVU must concentrate most of its defensive attention on.
Meanwhile, there will be much attention focused on WVU’s lineup.
The Mountaineers broke a season-long three-game losing streak last time when Huggins juggled his starting line and went small, bringing Derek Culver off the bench.
It’s expected that Culver, who responded with a big game, will be back in the starting lineup because TCU just can’t match up with WVU when they play both big men — Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe — together.
“I haven’t thought that much about the lineup in all honesty,” Huggins said. “I’m trying to make sure we don’t get ambushed at TCU. They may make a bunch of shots and they are capable of doing that. It helps our guys if they know how and where they are going to take those shots.”