MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Three consecutive wins, bedazzled by two end-game rise-ups from its star guards, have abruptly altered the perception of West Virginia’s basketball season.
At least it has within West Virginia.
Eron Harris doubts the Mountaineers have earned much regard from the No. 8-ranked Kansas Jayhawks (17-5, 8-1), who are front-running toward a 10th consecutive Big 12 title.
“They’re aware of us, but they probably think that we’re trash,” said Harris.
“They’re going to go at us like they’re going to beat us easy. That’s what they’re probably thinking.”
Coming off a 28-point outburst during an overtime upset of Oklahoma, Harris sees promise in WVU (14-9, 6-4) being tied for third place in the Big 12. Yet he understands there’s miles of ground to make up before his team can ponder an NCAA tournament bid. Even a string of quality wins over Baylor (RPI No. 53), Kansas State (No. 38) and the Sooners (No. 21) has only lifted the Mountaineers to No. 72 in the index.
“We can’t get comfortable,” said Harris, whose 22-point second half against Oklahoma included a game-extending 3-pointer late in regulation. That milestone shot came a week after point guard Juwan Staten beat Baylor 66-64 on a reverse layup with 3 seconds left.
Contained within those victories, however, were stretches in which WVU flailed in the same manner that got it beat earlier in the season. Like going nearly the five minutes without scoring at Baylor, or squandering a 14-point second-half lead to Oklahoma.
Harris insisted the Mountaineers aren’t deceived by the winning outcomes: “We’ve got to be more efficient and more consistent. And we’ve got to be tougher.”
Certainly, West Virginia needs to be tougher than it showed last year at Allen Fieldhouse, when the Jayhawks parlayed an avalanche of dunks, 3s and swatted shots into a 91-65 laugher. The romp featured Ben McLemore scoring 36 to surpass Danny Manning’s single-game freshman record and Jeff Withey coming within one block of a triple-double.
Both those players are gone, but come Saturday, Harris and the Mountaineers encounter a Kansas team reloaded with new stars and currently atop the RPI.
“They blew us out last year at their place, but we’re ready,” Harris said. “We’re going to go in there and fight.”