No. 10 West Virginia plays key game atTexas (Jan 14, 2017)

BY AP • January 13, 2017

West Virginia has already accomplished the hard part of this week's schedule when it beat top-ranked Baylor on Tuesday night in Morgantown, W.Va.

So when the 10th-ranked Mountaineers travel to the Lone Star State to face a reeling Texas team on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, they will be focused on keeping their momentum going.

The Mountaineers (14-2, 3-1 Big 12) has used a stifling, pressing defense to establish itself as one of the nation's top teams and capable of beating anyone.

West Virginia is one of three Big 12 team ranked in the top 10 (Baylor was No. 1 before Tuesday's loss and Kansas No. 2) and the conference's round-robin schedule is daunting.

That's why Saturday's game is so important for both teams. The Mountaineers can't afford to have a backward step against Texas (7-9, 1-3). The Longhorns have to find a way back to their winning ways and solid consistent basketball.

West Virginia is an in-your-face team from opening tip to final horn. The Mountaineers lead the nation in turnovers forced per game (24.6), turnover margin (plus-13.9) and total steals (207).

"A lot of our numbers are up from last year, but we're starting to get back to the basics," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "We got away from the fundamentals for a while and we've got some improving to do."

Through 16 games, the Mountaineers have created turnovers on 32.6 percent of their opponents' possessions and five players have already amassed 20 or more steals this season. Jevon Carter is fifth in Division I play with 52 steals.

"West Virginia has a tremendous press -- a unique press," Texas coach Shaka Smart said. "They're terrific at trapping. The key is their connectivity. When they force live-ball turnovers, they do a phenomenal job of turning them into layups or open shots. You've got to have poise, understand spacing and keep the ball in the middle of the floor."

The Longhorns, who began the season in the Top 25 but have stumbled mightily, have lost four of its past five outings. Four of Texas' past five losses have been by five points or less, including a 64-61 setback to TCU on Wednesday that was the Horned Frogs' first victory in Austin in 30 years.

"Losing these close games is very frustrating because we have practiced so hard and put so much into the game," Texas sophomore guard Kerwin Roach said after the loss to TCU. "We have to stay together and not let games like this separate us."

The Longhorns' work to get back on a winning path was made much more difficult on Thursday when Smart indefinitely suspended their leading scorer, sophomore swingman Tevin Mack, for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Texas has to hope recent trends in their games against West Virginia continue on Saturday. The Longhorns have won six of the last seven meetings with the Mountaineers, including a two-game sweep last season. Texas committed a two-game total of 15 turnovers (eight in Morgantown, seven in Austin) in those two victories.

The Longhorns can rise to the occasion. Texas posted a 3-1 mark against Associated Press Top 10 opponents at home last season, with wins over No. 3 North Carolina, No. 10 West Virginia and No. 3 Oklahoma in Austin during the first season under Smart.



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