MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coach Rick Barnes knows his team as soundly as anyone, yet he may have been the most surprised person in the Coliseum after Texas bullied West Virginia 80-69 on Monday night.
Bolstered by forceful rebounding and season-high 52-percent shooting, the Longhorns asserted themselves before intermission and raced to a three-touchdown lead in the second half. Only a late surge made the final score respectable for the Mountaineers, who won both meetings last season and were 4-point favorites this time around.
After Texas narrowly defeated Texas Tech at home Saturday, did Barnes foresee his squad transforming into world-beaters on the cross-country flight to Morgantown?
“No, no. Absolutely not,” he said.
Yet from a 23-all deadlock at the 6:17 mark of the first half, Texas tore the game open with an 18-4 run that included six dunks or layups. Four of those point-blank buckets came after WVU’s newly initiated rim protector Brandon Watkins (five blocks in 14 minutes) sat with his third foul.
West Virginia simultaneously dipped into a 1-of-10 shooting funk that led to a 41-27 halftime hole.
“We really felt those last eight minutes of the first half were the best we played all year,” Barnes said. “We were really good.”
And Texas (13-4, 2-2) was really good on the other side of halftime also, returning with a 7-2 run highlighted by two Javan Felix jumpers. The stocky guard poured in 13 of his 19 points during the second half, including a fast-break lay-in that staked Texas to its biggest cushion at 70-49.
That became the cue for most of the 8,706 fans to bolt, caring little that West Virginia (10-7, 2-2) had erased a 13-point second-half deficit in Austin last season. Of larger consequence was the more recent trend: WVU heading to its fourth consecutive loss inside the Coliseum.
Behind Jonathan Holmes and the beefy Cameron Ridley grabbing 12 boards each, Texas owned the final rebounding edge 49-30. Ridley’s series of putbacks led to 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
“Me and John, we really focused on crashing the glass as hard as we can,” said the 285-pound sophomore Ridley, recalling how irked Barnes became after UT was out-rebounded in two of its previous three games.
Devin Williams, heretofore West Virginia’s best rebounder, played 16 minutes to produce no rebounds and only two points. From double-double threat to darn near double aught.
“Devin had a little bit of the flu or a lot of the flu, I don’t know,” said coach Bob Huggins. “When he’s not very good, then we’re not very good in there.”
With Ridley hungrier and heavier in the pursuit of rebounds, Huggins said his interior players “got out-manned,” explaining WVU’s largest rebounding deficit of the season.
“I got Nate Adrian at about 215 pounds. I got Remi (Dibo) who’s 210. I got Brandon (Watkins) who’s a stick. And they’re not pogo-stick guys that really jump either. We needed a big body and Devin’s the only big body we have.”
Expressing what WVU refused to, Barnes suspected the 73-72 loss to then-No. 11 Oklahoma State continued to hound the Mountaineers.
“It’s a tough one when you’ve got a chance to beat a team that’s ranked as high as Oklahoma State was and let it get away at the end,” he said.
WVU guard Eron Harris discredited the notion of a carryover from the quick-turn schedule: “No excuses—everybody’s got to play games like that.”
HARRIS FOUL TROUBLE
One writer questioned whether Harris committed a “silly” second foul in trying to block a shot by Martez Walker with 11:11 left. The call sent Harris to the bench for the next nine minutes, when Texas pulled out to a double-digit lead.
“I didn’t think that was a foul,” Huggins said. “I thought that was a good block. Those used to be good blocks. I wouldn’t tell him not to try to make that play.”
With four freshmen and five sophomores in its 10-man rotation, Texas is one of the youngest and most stunning stories at the season’s midpoint. On the heels of last year’s losing record, Barnes has retooled the roster, and complimented Huggins on taking a similar approach.
“We’re both kind of doing the same thing,” he said, “trying to get our programs back with the kind of guys we feel good about.”