By Jay Fisher
The 21 point win over then #1 Baylor was certainly a highlight of the season. But since then, WVU has yet to play a good game. They struggled with very average Texas team that was missing 2 key players. But that could be rationalized: WVU was on the road at a place they rarely play well, and there was an inevitable letdown.
But then came a loss at home to Oklahoma. The Sooners are arguably the worst team in the Big 12 this year. They aren’t a horrible team, but this was a game that WVU had no business losing. It was a lot like the Texas Tech loss in that missed free throws played a crucial role. But equally crucial was WVU’s inability to force turnovers, and poor half court defense. Most distressing was that a 14-0 WVU run in the second half gave the Mountaineers a 15 point lead with just under nine minutes left, and they still couldn’t win the game.
Against Kansas State, WVU once again saw a double digit lead quickly vanish, but this one was in the first half. WVU actually trailed much of the second half, but a late run gave the Mountaineers a lead briefly. Ironically, good free throw shooting kept WVU in the game. But shaky defense was a problem once again, and WVU had more turnovers than it forced for the second straight game. [Private]
It is now gutcheck time for the Mountaineers. WVU had Kansas last night (a game which I am considerable less optimistic about now), and this Saturday face Texas A&M as part of a Big12-SEC Challenge. That is a game WVU should win, and it is a team that is not used to facing the Mountaineer press. Then they return to the Big 12 schedule with a very tough road game at Iowa State.
This is a team that could make it to the Final Four – their performances against Virginia and Baylor show that. Data-driven ratings like Ken Pomeroy’s and Jeff Sagarin’s still like WVU. But they will need to play with more effort and more efficiency to do so, or they will face an early exit from the tournament.
After the Kansas State loss, Bob Huggins noted that this team seems to play better as the “hunted” and not the “hunter”. That’s an affliction that seems to affect a lot of WVU teams; they can’t seem to stand prosperity. Their first conference loss was after an impressive road win at Oklahoma State, and they haven’t played well since beating Baylor, so there does seem to be some validity to what Huggins said.
Notes: The Texas A&M game is at noon on Saturday, and will be on ESPN…The game at Iowa State is Tuesday Jan 31, at 9:00pm on ESPN2…The gymnastics team was not able to upset #1 Oklahoma, but they did post their season best score, with a 195.55. That bodes well for the rest of the season, as the scores