After conquering its second ranked opponent in three games, the West Virginia men’s basketball team is heading back on the road to try to keep its late-season momentum alive against the No. 19 Texas Longhorns Saturday night in Austin, Texas.
“Every time we win it helps with our confidence,” said junior guard Juwan Staten. “We don’t really pay attention to the number next to the team when we’re playing them. We just go out there with a certain game plan, and as long as we execute, we’ll give ourselves a great chance.”
The Mountaineers (15-10, 7-5 Big 12) swept the season series against Texas (19-5, 8-3) in the 2012-13 season, but the Longhorns already grabbed the first leg of this year’s series in convincing fashion at the WVU Coliseum Jan. 13.
Overall, the all-time series between the newly aligned conference foes is knotted at three wins each. The Mountaineers took the only game played between the two schools at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
However, the Longhorns have won eight of their last nine games, clearly positioning themselves for an NCAA bid. West Virginia remains in the thick of the hunt for a tournament bid of their own after defeating No. 11 Iowa State Monday night at home.
Currently, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has WVU as one of the last four in the tournament, and the Mountaineers still have six games remaining –four of them coming against teams in the Top 22 RPI.
“We definitely understand now that we need every game,” Staten said. “We need to come out and play as hard as we can play, every play. We need to get a lot of loose balls. We need to really lock down on defense, because we feel we can score with any team.
“(Winning) feels good but we’ve got to look forward to the next game. We can’t get too high on ourselves and then go out and play flat against Texas, because we really want that game.”
By the numbers, Texas has been the best defensive team in the conference, at least in regard to opponents’ shooting percentage. West Virginia has recently found some stability on the defensive end as well.
On Monday, WVU limited the nation’s No. 4 offense to just 37 percent from the field and eight points under their average output on the season.
“This is the best we’ve been defensively all season, and well, for a while,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
This weekend West Virginia’s defense will be tasked with stopping three of the conference’s top 20-scorers in Jonathan Holmes (13.1 points per game), Isaiah Taylor (12.5 ppg) and Javan Felix (12.4 ppg).
Big man Cameron Ridley also averages double-figures in scoring (10.9 ppg) and is the Big 12’s fourth-leading rebounder, pulling down more than eight boards per contest.
But the Mountaineers are confident their own seemingly improved defense is up to the challenge.
“Just the way we’re playing defense now reminds me of my first year here,” said junior forward Kevin Noreen. “Joe Mazzulla’s last year here, Cam Thoroughman’s last year – those guys could trust each other, and their defense is what got them to the tournament. We feel like we can play that way as well, and I think we have a little more offense than they did. We just have to keep it going.”