West Virginia Takes Out Baylor For Fourth Straight Big 12 Victory
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia again took a page from among the more infamous basketball quotes.
They’d rather win ugly than lose pretty. It should, frankly, become WVU’s catchphrase, one that can align beside the trademark “Press Virginia.” The No. 2 Mountaineers lost in multiple areas of the box score – including rebounding, second chance points and points in the paint – and pieced together their lowest scoring game of the season.
But taking a glance at the scoreboard reveals one incontrovertible truth. For the 15th time in 16 games, and for the 15th time in a row, West Virginia has been on the positive side of the ledger, which has fed its rise in the national rankings to the highest it has been in 59 years.
“Well, quite frankly neither team shot the ball very well,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “And when that happens, it’s kind of an ugly game. I think both teams are capable of scoring the ball. Both of us just had bad games. You have to grind it out. I felt pretty good at the end. I thought our seniors were going to keep the ball in our seniors’ hands and go make free throws.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t make them the way they had made them in the past. You have to contribute, you know? That’s what it is. Somebody has to make a play when it counts, and it doesn’t have to be the same guy all of the time.”
It hasn’t been. West Virginia used three consecutive team-leading scoring outings from Teddy Allen in starting unbeaten in the Big 12. They got massive rebounding and defensive games from Sags Konate, workmanlike performances from Dax Miles and the steady, heady play of Jevon Carter. Against Baylor, it was Chase Harler who provided a boost off the bench with seven points and a pair of assists and steals in serving as a zone breaker against BU’s look.
Harler was the lone Mountaineer to shoot well in a game in which WVU made just 19-of-61 (31.1 percent), and went seven minutes with just one field goal in a key late stretch. But it did what it does, as Huggins says, and rode its defense and rebounding to counter the shooting issues and survive the 1-for-11 shooting before Carter buried a huge three with less than a minute remaining. The Mountaineers then held off Baylor’s final push, when head coach Scott Drew took a page from his playing days and tried a catch-and-pass play to Manu Lecomte, whose shot hit off the backboard.
“We were going to try to make them catch it in front of us,” Huggins said. “We didn’t do a very good job, obviously, but I thought we got to them and put some pressure on them. I’d rather do that then foul them and take the chance that they are going to make two free throws, and then we have to go to the free throw line again. What are you gaining? We are up three – the worst we can do is tie.
“I kind of let it roll with our defense. We were talking about going zone, you know, and couple of the assistants wanted to go zone and I just got the guys over and asked them what they wanted to do. They said, ‘No Coach, let’s guard them.’”
West Virginia did, taking down its third of fourth straight Big 12 foes by eight points or less. In this one WVU never led by more than four and trailed the entire first half, failing to take an advantage until the initial second half bucket by Lamont West. The Mountaineers, in fact, have averaged winning by just 7.5 points – but a win’s just that, and they have 15 of them in 16 outings.
“We tell them every day that if you stick by your principles and do what you’re supposed to do, we’re going to make plays,” Huggins said. Thus far, West Virginia has.
Note: Forward Esa Ahmad will return for Saturday’s game at No. 8 Texas Tech.
“He’s played well in practice is all I know,” Huggins said. “He made an impact a year ago, I would assume he would again. I worry about his conditioning. He’s practiced with us, you know, and he really hasn’t practiced with the guys who played the most. The thing I like the most about Esa is he knows how to play. He may not be at the top of his game come Saturday, but it won’t be long after that he will be. He’s the best rebounding small forward in our league, not even close.”