WACO, Texas — Because his entire season has been one aggressive move after another to the rim, Juwan Staten expected Baylor to send a second defender his way. Because he had gone 1-of-6 at the free-throw line, he even suspected Baylor might foul him early in the final possession.
Instead, the Bears allowed Staten to dribble off the most of the shot clock before he drove the lane and made the decisive reverse layup with 3.1 seconds left. It gave West Virginia an uplifting 66-64 victory and dropped Baylor deeper into the Big 12 doldrums.
“They played right into our hands when they played straight man (defense),” Staten said. “I really got an easier shot than we even wanted.”
Perhaps the shot looked easier because Staten penetrated so deep beneath the basket that Baylor’s long-armed defenders half-expected him to pass the ball out to one of West Virginia’s perimeter shooters. The point guard admitted he might have been inclined to do so if not for some fatherly advice.
“My dad is always in my head, giving me stuff to think about, talking to me all the time,” Staten said. “He told me I wasn’t shooting enough reverse layups. He told me that there’s probably been 17 or 18 times this year that I drove under the basket and ended up kicking it out when I didn’t get stopped.
“Right before I (was about to) kick it out, I thought ‘Shoot the reverse layup.’ I put my eyes on the rim and no one was there to block it. I give all the props to my dad.”
Staten finished with a game-high 15 points and nine assists, making amends for an awful night at the foul line, including back-to-back misses with 49 seconds left when West Virginia (12-9, 4-4) nursed a 64-63 lead.
Of course, Baylor (13-7, 1-6) had free-throw troubles of its own—going 14-of-23 after Rico Gathers could only make one to tie the game with 36 seconds remaining.
That left the game clock and shot clock virtually synched for West Virginia’s final possession. A possession on which coach Bob Huggins completely deferred to Staten, figuring his point guard could exploit a crack in the Baylor defense or at least facilitate a drive-and-kick for Erin Harris, Terry Henderson and Remi Dibo (a trio that had knocked down eight 3-pointers on the night).
“(Huggins) pretty much just told me the ball was going to be in my hands, so run the shot clock down and make something happen,” Staten said. “They give me a lot of freedom. They respect me and believe in me, so that gives me a lot of confidence.”
It’s a palpable trust Staten also can sense from teammates, despite those last-minute free throws that missed badly.
“To redeem himself he went and made the game-winning shot,” said Harris. “This is our guy, man.”