Another Big 12 Battle On The Docket As WVU Heads Into Final Three Weeks
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There can be no assumptions throughout Big 12 play.
Heck, that extends to college basketball as a whole this season, when upsets are no longer that and the order of the day is chaos. How else to explain the weekend defeats of Duke and Kentucky and the loss by Kansas to Oklahoma State reflected against the Cowboys’ 1-4 record over the last five.
It’s jumbled the field not only nationally, but in the Big 12, where No. 19 West Virginia (18-6, 7-4) finds itself one game back of first place Kansas and Texas Tech, which both sport 8-3 league records. The Mountaineers themselves have been as up and down as any, losing to last place Iowa State on the road – along with the likes of Kansas and Kentucky after holding major leads – before polishing off Kansas State and beating No. 17 Oklahoma in Norman.
It appears WVU has momentum, its offense finding strides in sections of games while its effort is again showing on defense. But as we’ve seen, that can be dashed as quickly as its built, even by an Oklahoma State team struggling with turnovers and finding ways to win. The Cowboys are in the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category, yet haven’t made key plays in critical junctures, and as a result sit in next-to-last place at 14-10 overall, 4-7 in league play.
“They have a bunch of guys who can shoot the ball,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “They can score points. They have gotten better defensively. Go back and watch their game against Kansas, they made hard shots.”
True, the Cowboys offer three double-digit scorers, but they haven’t lit up foes, averaging 77 points per game, sixth in the Big 12. OSU is seventh in field goal percentage (44.1) and in scoring defense, at 72.6 points per game, leaving them only ahead of Iowa State in scoring margin. The middling nature has left OSU just 4-8 since conference play began, with a loss to Arkansas in the Big12/SEC Challenge and an 85-79 defeat against West Virginia in Stillwater on Dec. 29.
It makes it a must-get if the Mountaineers are to challenge for a Big 12 title, especially as Huggins continues to shuffle the line-up. Dax Miles has come off the bench in the last two contests after not making the trip to Iowa State, as Beetle Bolden has moved into the vacated spot. The two nearly split time versus K-State at 25 minutes for Miles and 24 for Bolden, though Bolden played far more versus Oklahoma at 27 minutes to Miles’ 15. WVU has also shorted the bench some, with just seven players seeing more than seven minutes at OU.
“It depends upon the situation,” Huggins said of the playing time for Bolden and Miles. “We have won a lot of games with Dax doing what he does. I’d like to get back to playing more guys, obviously. I tell them all the time I don’t decide how many minutes you play, you do. That hasn’t changed. I think Maciej (Bender) really gives us good minutes off the bench. We all understand he can only play so many but I think he has been really good for us.”
West Virginia did receive an offensive boost from Lamont West, who hit five threes in a span of 2:48 against the Sooners. That hot streak boosted a 17-2 WVU run to take a lead it would never relinquish, though West then went cold, missing his final five shots and trying to create a late midrange jumper that resulted in a shot clock violation.
“We’d like him to shoot it more consistent,” Huggins said. “He shot it in that one little flurry but had some looks in the second half that didn’t go down. You can’t think yourself through a jumpshot. It has to be neuromuscular integration and hopefully he will be able to do that.
“He can score. I think anytime you can put a guy on the floor who can score, that bodes well for you. We have to keep working with him and Wes (Harris). Esa (Ahmad) is getting better, feeling more comfortable. It’s really the whole group. I’d like to get Chase (Harler) playing how he was earlier.”
Which would, in effect, again lengthen the bench. That also guards, somewhat, against foul trouble and could boost the consistency of a team that scored 50 points in consecutive halves, then suffered through another drought that left them with just 25 in the final period against Oklahoma. The 75 points were enough to win, but well below West Virginia’s season average of 80.8 points per game.
“I thought we defended pretty well against Oklahoma,” Huggins said. “We hold them below their averages at home you’ve done a pretty good job. We were more aggressive defensively, which we needed to be. JC was great with six steals.”