No. 12 West Virginia visits desperate TCU (Feb 25, 2017)
While No. 12 West Virginia will be playing for seeding Saturday, TCU is vying for its postseason life.
When they meet in Fort Worth, Texas, the Horned Frogs (17-11, 6-9 Big 12) desperately need to snap a four-game slide in order to bolster their NCAA tournament bubble status. ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm each list TCU among the last teams in the field.
"At this point there is no question our biggest game of the year is this Saturday," said TCU coach Jamie Dixon. "There's no other way to put it. Let's not make it smaller than it is -- it's the biggest game of the year."
Dixon's team has been chewed up by the Big 12 round-robin grind, losing at Baylor, Iowa State and most recently at Kansas 87-68 on Wednesday night. That was a two-point game before a second-half stretch where TCU produced only three baskets in 11 minutes.
"We missed layups and we went a little soft on some finishes," Dixon said. "Missed layups turn into baskets the other way often and that's what happened. That's something where we have to grow and get better.
"We're not ready. I thought we were, but we're not ready to beat those teams on the road the way we play."
A return home could provide a boost, though the Mountaineers have taken all four meetings in Fort Worth and own a 10-0 series edge overall.
West Virginia (22-6, 10-5), in a three-way tie with Iowa State and Baylor for second place in the league, continues its Texas road swing against Baylor in Waco on Monday.
The Mountaineers may be without second-leading scorer Esa Ahmad (11.7 points, 4.1 rebounds). The sophomore forward sat out the previous win over Texas with a strained back.
"He's been in to get treated and all that, but it depends on how he feels," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "It's something you don't want to have continue to linger."
Huggins essentially labeled Ahmad a takeoff-time decision for the team's Friday afternoon flight.
"If he's not 100 percent ready to go, I don't know if we're doing him or the team any justice," Huggins said.
The Mountaineers accommodated for Ahmad's absence in their 77-62 win over Texas thanks to guard Jevon Carter producing 24 points and 10 rebounds and reserve forward Lamont West scoring 23 points, most of them from the perimeter.
While Carter seems a cinch to earn All-Big 12 defensive honors again, his persistence in chasing down missed shots defies his 6-foot-2 stature. The junior has become West Virginia's second-leading rebounder (4.7 per game) by grabbing eight or more boards during six of the past 11 games.
"Just doing my job," Carter said. "Shot goes up, I box my man out, and the ball comes to me."
Huggins, just days after collapsing during a timeout against Texas, dispelled doubts about his own health.
"I feel good. All good," he said.
Along with Carter (12.6 points, 4.1 assists), the Mountaineers could deploy a three-guard lineup that includes Tarik Phillip (9.5 points, 3 assists) and Daxter Miles (8.9 points, 2.1 rebounds), who played only 13 minutes against the Longhorns.
West Virginia's big men -- Nathan Adrian, who averages 10.3 points, and Elijah Macon (5.5 points) -- are on different trajectories of late. Macon is on an 18-of-21 shooting surge while Adrian has made only 6 of his last 26 shots.
The Mountaineers won 82-70 when the teams met Jan. 7 in Morgantown, W.Va., and TCU remains 0-6 when allowing more than 80 points. They're next-to-last in the Big 12 in field-goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent.