West Virginia-Texas Preview

As if an opportunity to stay atop the Big 12 standings wasn't incentive enough, West Virginia also gets a chance for some payback.

The 10th-ranked Mountaineers can avenge two of their three league losses in a crucial week that begins with Tuesday night's visit to No. 24 Texas.

After raising expectations by winning their first four conference games – including an impressive home victory over then-No. 1 Kansas – the Mountaineers received a reality check with a 56-49 home setback to the Longhorns on Jan. 20, four days after a narrow loss at Oklahoma.

West Virginia (20-5, 9-3 Big 12) has responded by winning five of six in Big 12 play to tie the Jayhawks for first place and move one game up on the third-ranked Sooners, who'll visit Morgantown on Saturday.

The Mountaineers bounced back from losing last week's rematch with Kansas by yielding their fewest points in a Big 12 game in Saturday's 73-42 rout of TCU, with their trademark press defense inducing 26 turnovers that led to 26 points.

West Virginia, the Division I leader in steals (10.4) and takeaways (19.1) per game, wasn't able to create such chaos in its last meeting with Texas (16-9, 7-5), averaging a conference-low 10.9 giveaways. The Longhorns had just eight in the first matchup while holding the Mountaineers to 33.3 percent shooting and a season low in points.

That game was part of a seven-game stretch from Jan. 16-Feb. 6 in which Texas limited opponents to 60.6 points per game and a 37.0 percent field goal rate. The Longhorns weren't as stifling in recent road losses to Oklahoma and No. 13 Iowa State, two of the conference's top offensive teams.

The Cyclones shot 55.4 percent and scored 49 second-half points to pull away for an 85-75 win Saturday. Texas was outscored 48-34 in the paint with center Prince Ibeh limited to 19 minutes by foul trouble.

“With the current makeup of our team, we need him to play more than 19 minutes,” coach Shaka Smart said.

Ibeh has emerged as one of the Longhorns' most important players with Cameron Ridley sidelined since mid-December by a broken foot, leaving Texas short on size and often deficient on the glass. The Longhorns have been outrebounded by 2.6 per game in Big 12 play, an area West Virginia will look to exploit.

The Mountaineers also top Division I in offensive rebounding percentage (41.5) and ended the TCU game with a 50-35 advantage on the boards. Devin Williams notched his league-high 11th double-double and is averaging 14.0 points and 12.0 rebounds over his last five.

“He continues to get better and better,” coach Bob Huggins said. “(Saturday), he got going too fast and missed some shots, but he is one of the premier rebounders in this league. I think if you're premier in our league, you're premier in the country.”

West Virginia also received a boost from Jonathan Holton's reinstatement from a four-game suspension as he totaled 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists off the bench. The senior forward had 10 points and 14 rebounds against the Longhorns last month and has shot 71.9 percent from the field over his last four.

The Mountaineers struggled badly at the foul line in the previous matchup, making just 8 of 23 attempts. Their 66.1 free throw percentage exceeds only Texas' 65.1 among Big 12 teams.

Texas fell two games out of first place with last week's losses but has a chance to gain ground with four of its next five at home, including games with Oklahoma and Kansas. The Longhorns are 12-1 at Erwin Center and have won seven straight conference games there dating back to last season.