West Virginia-Kansas St. Preview
Bob Huggins can deadpan with the best of them, which makes the West Virginia coach one of the most eccentric personalities in college basketball.
Following his 17th-ranked Mountaineers’ thrilling victory over the weekend, Huggins spoke in his usual matter-of-fact style as he began looking forward to Tuesday night’s important road contest against surging Kansas State.
Freshman Jevon Carter hit two free throws with one second remaining in overtime of Saturday’s 86-85 home win over TCU, helping West Virginia (16-3, 4-2 Big 12) overcome its third subpar shooting performance in four games.
"If we win Tuesday and Saturday (against Texas Tech at home), then I would say, yeah, this changed the season for them," Huggins said. "If we go to Kansas State and lay an egg, then no."
The Mountaineers are a half-game behind the Wildcats and one back of first-place Kansas, with Iowa State, Texas and Baylor also in the crowded mix for the conference lead.
West Virginia shot 40.8 percent from the field against the Horned Frogs after hitting 24.1 percent in a 77-50 road loss to the Longhorns on Jan. 17. It shot 32.4 percent in a 74-72 defeat to the Cyclones on Jan. 10.
The Mountaineers rank ninth in the 10-team conference in field-goal percentage at 41.7 and eighth from the free-throw line at 66.6 percent.
"We were awful. We couldn’t make a free throw, we couldn’t make a shot, (but) they continue to battle," Huggins said. "We’ve got to get some more consistency."
Juwan Staten finished with 18 points and a career-high 12 assists after shooting a combined 2 of 16 and scoring seven points over his previous two.
”I told everyone before the game that he’d have a great game,” Huggins said. ”The way he shot (in practice Friday) I thought he would have a lot of confidence, and he did. He’s got a lot of confidence in the team.”
Staten had the best game of his career in the last meeting with Kansas State, hitting 8 of 13 from the field and 18 of 21 from the line for a personal high of 35 points in an 81-71 home win Feb. 1.
That ended a three-game skid against the Wildcats (12-8, 5-2), winners of five of six after beating Oklahoma State 63-53 on Saturday. The hot stretch follows a three-game losing streak that included a home loss to Texas Southern on Dec. 28.
"We have made progress. We are much more of a team and that is the first thing on the board – to worry about the team and how you help the team," coach Bruce Weber said. "We are more consistent, but we just have to worry about Tuesday night for the next one because nothing will be easy. You have to play your butts off."
Nino Williams hit 10 of 13 from the field for 20 points against the Cowboys as the Wildcats improved to 20-2 at home in Big 12 play under Weber.
”You have to defend the home court in this league,” Weber said.
Tuesday’s outcome could depend on how well the Wildcats handle the Mountaineers’ pressure defense. West Virginia leads the nation in turnovers forced at 21.9 per game, but Kansas State has committed just 10 giveaways in each of its last two contests.