WVU hooked by Longhorns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jonathan Holmes, Javan Felix and the rest of the guys from Texas saw how well West Virginia played in a high-scoring upset of No. 8 Kansas to finish off the regular season.
“We didn’t want to let it happen to us,” Felix said.
So behind one of their finest defensive performances of the year, not to mention 20 points from Holmes and 16 from Felix, the third-seeded Longhorns shut down the cold-shooting Mountaineers in a 66-49 victory Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“You go into every game expecting it to be really close. You always do, even when you have a lead,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “Defensively we were good. Transition defense was good, and I thought we did a pretty good job for the most part.”
The outcome was never in doubt after the game was a few minutes old. Texas raced to a 21-4 lead, built a 20-point cushion late in the first half, and even pressed its advantage past 30 by midway through the second half before coasting the final few minutes.
The Longhorns (23-9) will play seventh-seeded Baylor on Friday night. The Bears held on after blowing most of a 21-point lead to beat No. 2 seed Oklahoma 78-73 earlier in the night.
The sixth-seeded Mountaineers (17-15) may have had their faint NCAA tournament hopes dashed by the miserable night on offense. They shot just 30 percent from the field.
“We were sixth in the best league in the country,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I don’t know. I don’t know what everybody looks at and what’s really important.”
Brandon Watkins led the way with 10 points for West Virginia, but Juwan Staten – the Big 12’s top scorer – was held to four points on 1-for-11 shooting, and Eron Harris – the league’s third-leading scorer – had three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
Both players spent most of the second half on the bench, Staten after twisting his right ankle and Harris after picking up his fourth foul. He eventually picked up No. 5, too.
“They’re a long team, they have a long back line, and with their zone, they deflected a lot of passes,” the Mountaineers’ Terry Henderson said. “We did a poor job of scoring.”
Given the way the Mountaineers finished the regular season, with that 92-86 victory over the Jayhawks – a game in which everything they threw to toward the rim seemed to hit nothing but nylon – the way they performed Thursday night left just about everyone perplexed.
Nobody more than coach Huggins.
The Mountaineers had missed 18 of their first 20 shots and allowed Texas to cruise to a 21-4 lead before Huggins suddenly sprang from his seat on the bench and yelled across the floor to his team, “Can we run something, please?”
Staten promptly clanked a jumper off the rim. Not exactly what Huggins had in mind.
West Virginia only had two field goals until the 8:50 mark of the first half, when Harris and Staten scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 21-8. But the Longhorns promptly rattled off the next eight points, a brutally efficient response to any notion of a comeback.
The Mountaineers wound up shooting 18 percent in the first half (6 of 33). Their starting five of Staten, Harris, Remi Dibo, Devin Williams and Nathan Adrian combined to go 2 for 22.
“Lately we’ve been coming out second-guessing ourselves, and not aggressive,” Felix said. “We just wanted to get back to being aggressive, attacking from the very beginning.”
The game was so lopsided by the time the second half began that only a few thousand fans still dotted the seats of the Sprint Center, which had been rocking earlier in the day for down-to-the-wire games involving Kansas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Kansas State.
As if things weren’t bad enough for West Virginia, Staten landed awkwardly on an out-of-control leap toward the basket in the second half. He proceeded to limp straight up the tunnel to the locker room and didn’t return to the bench for several minutes.
He never returned to the game, but it also didn’t matter.
The Longhorns pushed their lead to 30 on a 3-pointer by Holmes with 9 1/2 minutes to play, and all the Mountaineers could do the rest of the way was try to salvage some dignity.
“I certainly didn’t see it coming,” Huggins said. “We had three pretty enthusiastic days of practice. When you’re reliant as we are on making jump shots, and you don’t make jump shots, it becomes extremely difficult.”