West Virginia (15-11, 7-6) will meet Baylor (17-9, 5-8) in a matchup that defines the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble Saturday at the Coliseum. Both teams need a win Saturday to keep NCAA tournament hopes alive.
On Jan. 28, WVU used a Juwan Staten reverse layup in the final second to beat Baylor, 66-64. But since then, the Bears have emerged as a team looking to make a late run in the postseason.
Baylor defeated then-No. 8 Oklahoma State following the loss to WVU and won four of six games while rattling three straight victories.
West Virginia knows Baylor is much improved since the last time these two teams met. Baylor’s junior guard Kenny Chery has recovered and rejoined the game, which directly correlates with the Bears’ recent success.
“Chery, I don’t think there is any doubt about it,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “He started out playing really well and then got hurt and didn’t play quite as well for a stretch. Now he’s starting to play really well again. When he plays well, they’re really good.”
Forwards Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson have both benefitted from the return of Chery. In two straight games, Jefferson registered a double-double. He also scored a season-high 25 points against Oklahoma State Monday night. Austin has scored at least 15 points in each of the last four Baylor games.
“When Kenny Chery plays you can’t get help, so they can get isolated,” Huggins said. “Austin’s a talented guy. Really, all three of those guys are talented. I just think when Chery plays well, the focus comes off of those bigs.”
For WVU, this means forwards Devin Williams, Kevin Noreen and Brandon Watkins have to stay out of foul trouble so they can matchup with the bigger bodies of the Bears.
“We know they will play inside out. They have two great big men so we know we have to defend them if we’re going to have a chance,” Staten said.
On offense, WVU needs to shoot the ball better than the last time out against Baylor. Eron Harris missed seven 3-pointers and the team only shot 34 percent from the field in the second half in the previous meeting.
WVU also had a near five-minute scoring drought to let Baylor back into the game in the last meeting.
“We also know we have to shoot the ball great, because they’ll probably play zone for at least 35 minutes,” Staten said.
Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.