COLUMBIA, Mo. — The success/failure split of fall semester can linger heavily on a team’s tournament hopes come March, and with that in mind, Eron Harris laid some heavy stakes on Thursday night’s game at Missouri.
“We’re going to go out there like it’s the national championship,” he said.
With hype like that, perhaps Harris should be in charge of promoting the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, a 10-game series the Big 12 currently leads 2-1. Harris and West Virginia (6-2), after missing their chance to knock off No. 10 Wisconsin last week in Cancun, view the matchup against Missouri (7-0) as an important resume builder.
“The game vs. Wisconsin, we let that one slip,” said Harris. “All these games are must-wins for us because we want to make it to the (NCAA) tournament.”
While West Virginia is 1-2 away from Morgantown this season, Missouri has been seemingly invincible inside its home arena, winning 22 straight overall and its last 77 nonconference games. With a near-capacity crowd of 15,000 anticipated for tonight’s showdown on ESPN2, the Mountaineers face both a daunting challenge and a grand opportunity.
“National TV, big crowd, all the things you can ask for,” said WVU forward Remi Dibo. “We’ve just got to come out and be ready to play.”
The Mountaineers certainly looked ready for Monday night’s 96-47 tuneup victory over Loyola-Maryland, which tied West Virginia’s Bob Huggins with Jerry Tarkanian and former Missouri coach Norm Stewart for 16th on the all-time wins list at 729. Though WVU out-rebounded Loyola 62-22, it remains 121st nationally in rebound percentage, whereas Mizzou ranks 21st.
“It’s the most athletic bunch we’ve faced,” Huggins said. “If we don’t do a better job of blocking out higher and keeping then from pushing us under the basket, it’s going to be a long night for us on the glass.”
Updating the Big 12/SEC Challenge:
Alabama def. Texas Tech 76-64 (SEC leads 1-0)
Iowa State def. Auburn 99-70 (Series tied 1-1)
Texas def. Vanderbilt 70-64 (Big 12 leads 2-1)
West Virginia at Missouri, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
TCU at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Mississippi at Kansas State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
South Carolina at Oklahoma State, 9:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Kentucky vs. Baylor at Arlington, Texas, 10 p.m. (ESPN)
Kansas at Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M at Houston, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)