Needing a deep run in this week’s Big 12 Tournament in order to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament, West Virginia is set to kick off its postseason with the quarterfinal game against the Texas Longhorns Thursday night.
This will be the Mountaineers’ third matchup with the Longhorns this season. Texas won both of the regular season contests, winning 80-69 in Morgantown Jan. 11 and 88-71 Feb. 15 in Austin.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said his team learned the hard way earlier this season what a tough matchup the Longhorns can be.
“I guess what I learned is that they’re pretty good. They’ve just manhandled us inside. We’ve got to somehow to a better job (inside),” Huggins said.
In the two regular season meetings between the Longhorns and Mountaineers, Texas outrebounded West Virginia 90 to 56.
Throughout this season, West Virginia’s main threat in the post has been freshman forward Devin Williams.
Just as West Virginia has struggled to produce as a team against the Longhorns this season, so has Williams.
The Mountaineers’ biggest post producer has put up just four points and three rebounds and made two of his 12 shots from the floor in the two games against Texas this year.
“The first two times I played against them were probably my worst two games of the season,” Williams said.
“It starts on the rebounding side … I’m really going to go out there and play as hard as I can and give a better effort than I have in the last two weeks.”
For the Mountaineers to have a chance to advance past Thursday’s game, Williams must find a way to contain Texas big men Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes.
While Williams struggled in his first two meetings with the Longhorns, he said he has been working with the coaching staff on finding a better way to defend against Texas’ superior size.
“The coaches say all the time that the best way to guard someone is to not let them catch the ball. I’m just going to try to do my work early,” Williams said.
“It’s going to be a long night. It’s a challenge … I’m just going to take on the challenge, go towards it, face it and go as hard as I can.”
Despite there being so much on the line for West Virginia this weekend, Huggins said his young team has remained relatively calm during its preparation.
“When you have a bunch of seniors, I think they understand. They’ve been through it. The finality of the whole thing starts to set in,” Huggins said.
“We don’t have any seniors. These guys are just kind of like ‘Let’s go play.’ It’s a whole different deal when you can say ‘We’ll get them next year.’”
Although there may be another year of college basketball guaranteed for every player on West Virginia’s roster, there is no guarantee of tomorrow in the postseason.