WVU Road Struggles Continue With Loss At Texas
The games took place two days and 190 miles apart, but their themes were similar.
West Virginia had blown out TCU last month in Morgantown (81-49), and it had done the same in January against Texas (97-59).
But just like the Horned Frogs, who outlasted West Virginia 67-60 in overtime on Saturday in Fort Worth, the Longhorns turned things around against WVU, scoring a 67-57 victory over West Virginia Monday night in Austin.
The 53-hour theme was the same, and so were West Virginia’s continued road struggles in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers, who are now 19-9 overall and 7-8 in the league, are just 1-7 in Big 12 road games.
With its win, Texas improved to 17-11 overall and moved into a tie with WVU for fourth place in the Big 12 with a 7-8 conference mark.
“If you hold people in the 60s, you should win,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins on the MSN postgame show. “We’re holding people to right about that, but we can’t score more than that.”
UT, which is a good three-point shooting team (33.7 percent on the season), was a great one on Monday, especially in the first half. The Longhorns nailed six of its 11 tries from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes, as Andrew Jones drilled all four of his attempts in the period en route to 16 first half points. Texas simply made shots in the opening half no matter what the distance, as it converted 13 of its 21 field goal attempts (62 percent).
That hot shooting allowed the home squad to push out to an 11-point lead early in the game, though the Mountaineers fought their way back and trailed 34-28 at the break. Sean McNeil led that offense for WVU. The sophomore guard had made just one of his previous 17 three-point attempts, but he dropped in all three of his tries in the first half at the Erwin Center.
Foul shooting remained a big issue for West Virginia in Austin, just as it has been all season.
It made just three-of-seven foul shots in the first half, including a pair of front end one-and-one misses by two of WVU’s better free throw shooters, McNeil and Jordan McCabe. The Mountaineers’ struggles at the charity stripe continued in the second half, as they made only seven of 14 in that stretch, including another pair of front end misses, both of those by Derek Culver, who was only two-of-eight from the line for the game.
“You can’t 10 for 21 from the foul line, and if you added in the missed front ends of one-and-ones, it was more like 10 for 30,” said Huggins. “You can’t go 10 for 30 from the foul line, and you can’t continue to shot 20-some percent from three. You can’t continue to miss shots two feet from the basket (WVU was six of 13 in layup attempts), and we do all that.”
Those errant shots kept West Virginia from making a run at UT in the second half. West Virginia got as close as three, 36-33, early in the period on a Jermaine Haley drive, but Texas quickly went back on top by nine. The Mountaineers never got any closer than seven points in the final 12 minutes and wound up losing by 10.
The loss was especially surprising considering West Virginia’s 38-point win over the Longhorns in Morgantown on Jan. 20 was the largest margin of defeat for a UT club in the five seasons Shaka Smart has served as its head coach.
The rematch in Austin on Monday was a complete turnaround. Texas not only shot well (22 of 42 on field goals, and nine of 22 from three), but fought the Mountaineers to a 29-29 draw on the boards. West Virginia had dominated that same battle on the glass at the Coliseum, 53-25.
It was the sixth win for the ‘Horns over WVU in the eight meetings at the Erwin Center.
Oscar Tshiebwe, who was held to one point at TCU on Saturday, bounced back to lead West Virginia in scoring with 16 points. McNeil finished with 13, and Culver added 12 for a WVU squad that made 22 of its 50 shots (44 percent). It’s just the second loss the Mountaineers have suffered in the 18 games this season in which they shot 41 percent or better from the field. They are 3-7 in games shooting below 41 percent.
Any offensive efficiency by WVU on Monday was more than offset by the fact that Texas shot 52.4 percent from the field itself, becoming just the fourth West Virginia foe this season to make better than 50 percent of its shots. WVU has lost all four of those games.
Andrew Jones wound up with 22 points for the Longhorns, making five of his nine three-point attempts. Courtney Ramey added 21 points for UT, as he was three of five from three.
“You start seeing the ball go in, and you start to think it’s supposed to. Then you start shooting with a lot of confidence,” said Huggins of the Longhorns’ hot shooting. “Those are the guys that made them against K-State, those are the guys who made them against TCU and those are the guys who made them against us.
“All that being said, make a free throw, make an open shot,” the veteran coach continued in reference to his own team. “I’ve told them the same thing since day one when they say they want to go to the Final Four. To get to the Final Four, if you get an open shot, you better make it, because you’re not going to get very many.
“If you remember back, we had no business beating Kentucky,” he said of WVU’s 2010 Elite Eight victory over the Wildcats in West Virginia’s run to the Final Four, “except we made every open shot. We didn’t miss open shots. That’s what it’s about. You only get so many. If you play quality teams, they’re not going to give you easy stuff. You have to earn everything you get, and we can’t make open shots.”
Licking their wounds after losing five of their last six games, the Mountaineers will try to right their ship on Saturday when they host Oklahoma (16-11/6-8). That contest from the WVU Coliseum, where West Virginia is 13-1 this season, will tipoff at 4 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.