West Virginia begins tough conference stretch with matchup against Baylor Bears
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 00:02
Following a tumultuous first half of the season, the West Virginia men’s basketball team is in the middle of a potential turnaround.
WVU will take its three-game conference win streak to Waco, Texas, Wednesday evening and take on Baylor, the only Big 12 Conference team West Virginia has yet to face as a member of the league.
"They’ve got a quick point guard that can really score the ball," said freshman guard Eron Harris. "And they’ve got a couple guys that can shoot it (and) some long inside guys. But I think we have thicker big men than theirs. So hopefully they can get in there and battle and get some boards."
It will be the second all-time meeting between the two schools. Baylor edged the Mountaineers 83-81 last year in their first meeting, in the championship game of the Las Vegas Classic last season.
This year, Baylor is 10-3 overall at home, including a 4-1 mark at home in league play.
WVU, on the other hand, is 3-5 on the road this season, but two of those three wins have come in the last eight days.
Still, the miles traveled are indeed adding up for the Mountaineers, as Wednesday’s road trip will be WVU’s eighth road trip this season, covering more than 1,500 miles round-trip. In fact, after Wednesday, the Mountaineers will have traveled nearly 10,000 miles since Jan. 26 alone.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, who coached in his 1,000th career college basketball game Saturday in a win against TCU, will coach his 200th game at West Virginia since returning to his alma mater in April, 2007.
It should also be noted Wednesday night’s game will almost certainly carry critical postseason implications, considering the Big 12 has been projected to get six total NCAA tournament bids, and right now Baylor holds that No. 6 spot in the standings at 6-4 in conference play. But the Mountaineers are lurking at 5-5 after three straight conference wins and are threatening to move into the upper echelon of the conference with a few more wins down the stretch.
"We got a nice confidence level going," said sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds. "We play Baylor on Wednesday, so it’s going to be a good game. We’re looking forward to that. Their bigs rebound the ball, and we’ve just got to play hard."
But even amidst West Virginia’s current three-game win streak, the Mountaineers have yet to defeat anyone in the Big 12 with a winning conference record. WVU is 5-0 against Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, who are a combined 5-26 in league play this season. Conversely, West Virginia is a woeful 0-5 in league play against the top five teams in the Big 12.
Freshman guard Terry Henderson claimed after the TCU game on Saturday that this record will have the Mountaineers extra fired up down this critical stretch.
"It factors in a lot. We’re going to work harder in practice with these big games coming up," Henderson said.
Henderson is coming off a game-high 17 points in just 19 minutes off the bench in the win Saturday against the Horned Frogs. Henderson was 3 of 4 from behind the arc, 4 of 4 from the charity stripe and shot a cool 83 percent from the floor overall in his most productive game since returning from a lower back injury in mid-January.
But other West Virginia players have remained adamant that their lack of success against the top teams in the Big 12 standings won’t have a whole lot of bearing down the stretch, simply because the Mountaineers are playing with a much higher collective confidence level since running off three consecutive conference wins over the last week and a half.
"I don’t think it matters," Harris said. "We’re a different team now. We think we can contend with anyone in the league right now.
"We definitely have a chance to get up in the top three in the conference – we’ve just got to keep winning these games. We’ve got three in a row; let’s make it four."