Bad time to look bad
by Jim Buzzerd
The West Virginia University Men’s Basketball Team had things set up nicely in their favor last week. They had three home games to conclude the regular season with a Tuesday game against Baylor, a Thursday test against TCU and the Saturday finale with Oklahoma State. Entering the week, the Mountaineers had an outside shot to finish first in the conference. In order for that to happen WVU would have to beat Baylor and hope some other teams could also down the Bears.
West Virginia had ample opportunity to get the Baylor game in the win column, but lost a 94-89 overtime decision. That win clinched the regular season title for the Bears. West Virginia could still get second place and the two seed in this week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City if they could win the final two games.
The Mountaineers did not look sharp at all in a 76-67 win over TCU, but a win is a win, as they say. The win marked head coach Bob Huggins’ 899th of his career and made Saturday’s matchup with OSU that much more meaningful. News Friday that Cowboy’s super freshman Cade Cunningham and starting guard Isaac Likekele would not play had folks thinking this one was in the bag.
Fans are permitted to think like that, players should avoid that pitfall. Without Cunningham and Likekele, the Cowboys (18-7, 11-7 Big 12) ran much of their offense through Avery Anderson. Anderson answered the call and then some, scoring a game-high 31 points, including 20 in the second half. Avery made 11-of-14 shots and 8-of-10 free throws, while consistently carving up the Mountaineers in dealing WVU a disappointing 85-80 loss.
West Virginia forced 20 turnovers, but that didn’t matter much because the Mountaineers were 5-of-24 from beyond the arc, were outrebounded 38-29 and allowed the Cowboys to score at will in the paint. OSU scored 50 points in the paint and shot 67% on all two-point shots.
West Virginia’s defense has been sieve like most of the season and on nights when West Virginia isn’t making threes, the outcome will be problematic. “We can’t guard,” Huggins said. “I’ve told you guys that and then I get crucified for telling you guys the truth. We don’t guard.”
If the Mountaineers want to play more than one game in the conference tournament this week, they will need to guard better. That’s because they will face Oklahoma State again in Thursday’s first quarterfinal game. I did not say the ‘same’ OSU team because Cunningham and Likekele are expected to play. The game is at 11:30 a.m. which is 10:30 Kansas City time. Hard to say if such an early start is an advantage for either team. Check listings for the broadcast. It’s slated for ESPN or ESPN2.
What if WVU would have been the two seed? They would have the winner of Wednesday’s first round winner between Oklahoma and Iowa State. The Sooners beat WVU twice and Iowa State gave the Mountaineers fits losing by five and four points in losses to WVU.