MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Twas 24 days ago when Juwan Staten made a transformative last-second shot in Waco, a basket that simultaneously beat Baylor 66-64 and jump-started West Virginia’s turnaround.

Come Saturday, the teams meet again at the WVU Coliseum with both occupying precarious spots on the NCAA bubble.

Staten’s game-winning reverse layup on Jan. 28 started West Virginia on a 4-2 stretch that included four wins over current RPI top-50 teams. Now the Mountaineers (15-11, 7-6) own a 66 RPI themselves, not presently good enough to grab an at-large big but certainly within drafting distance of earning one.

Baylor (17-9, 5-8) has gone 4-2 since the first meeting. It owns a better overall record than West Virginia and a far better RPI (No. 41), but that losing mark in Big 12 play won’t earn the Bears any back pats from the selection committee.

So, with two weeks left in the regular season, has the rematch essentially become an elimination game?

“We’ve only got five games left,” said Staten, named this week as a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award. “We know that we definitely have to get the ones at home in order to have a shot.”

Staten’s backcourt mate Eron Harris said the Mountaineers realize they have no margin for error.

“Every game is a must-win—it’s tournament time now,” he said.

Amid the regression of last Saturday’s 88-71 loss at Texas, Staten and Harris combined for 35 points, though it came on 11-of-31 combined shooting. The Mountaineers shot only 39 percent as a team, compared to 57 percent for Texas.

That loss dropped WVU to 4-9 against the RPI top 50 and into sixth place in the Big 12. The standings are noteworthy because the four teams that finish seventh or worst must play an opening-round game at the conference tournament. During the 17-year history of the Big 12 tournament, no team forced to play in the first round has ever pulled off the four-wins-in-four-days run necessary to win the title, and only four times has an opening-night team reached the championship game.

West Virginia continues swimming upstream because it failed to achieve much in the non-conference portion.

“We’ve got to win games,” said coach Bob Huggins, who hasn’t missed out on the NCAA in back-to-back seasons since his Cincinnati Bearcats settled for NIT bids in 1990 and 1991.

“I don’t think it’s any secret we’ve put ourselves behind the 8-ball. We won some games and got ourselves back in the hunt, and then we didn’t play very well at Texas.”

Staten was among the most unlikely of the 24 finalists for the Cousy honor considering he wasn’t on the bloated preseason watch list.

“I think he deserves it,” Huggins said. “I don’t watch as much basketball as a lot of people because I don’t have time to, but I don’t know anybody who’s playing at a higher level than he is now.”

The junior ranks second pin the Big 12 in scoring (18.1 points), second in assists (6.0), fifth in field-goal percentage (50.8 percent) and fifth in steals (1.31).

“He knows what areas we can attack because he studies film,” Huggins said. “He has put an enormous amount of time in.”

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  • tw eagle

    with no tv for the UT game (where were you AT?) , I logged onto the Longhorn game tracker . . . it seems Mr Staten took 10 of WVU's first 18 shots - and MISSED 8 of them . . . was Mr Staten trying to 'shoot' (score) himself into an award ?

    trying to play catch up with a bigger, more physical team is hard to do . . . let's hope that Mr Staten gets his head back into TEAM play and stops being driven by dreams of possible awards . . .

    with the string of games WVU put together I had high hopes that this group might actually accomplish something positive this season . . . garnering some nice attention from outside Morgantown , these Mounties reverted back to their me first style of play . . .
    not a good way to play when shorthanded bodies on the bench & and possessing only talent enough to win when playing as a TEAM . . .

    Let's Gooo Mountaineeerrsss ! ! !

    • Aaron

      I think you mean Harris. Staten hadn't take 8 shots by halftime.

      • tw eagle

        no mistake , staten opened the game taking 10 of the Mounties first 18 shots . . . with only 2 of them falling . . .
        The Moutaineers were down a dozen before finally figuring out it wasn't gonna be his night to score 30 points . . .

        I watched earlier games that the Mounties were losing . . . same pattern . . . staten drives the lane and throws up prayer or does a fall away jumper . . . his court behavior was also abysmal till one officiating crew had enough of his antics and gave him a technical . . . statens play from the K St disaster on has been commendable , brilliant at times . . . the lopsided stats make sense if the shots are falling . . .do you recall the home Okie St game WVU lost after leading by 2 with 20+ seconds left and having possession . . . ? . . . instead of moving ball around & forcing a foul , ball hog drives the lane , has three defenders collapse on him , and instead of dishing the ball , he forces a poor shot . . . I've seen his me first play in action , and these stats point to a return of that mindset . . . TEAM ball , and TEAM ball alone will win games for this Mountie group of roundballers . . . short on talent , they need everybody pulling in the same direction. . .

        • Aaron

          I was tracking on ESPN and they had Harris 2-10 and Staten 2-5 midway through the first half.

          I just wonder 1 thing. When Staten is hitting as he was when he went off for 35 against K-State, was he a 'dyed-in-the-wool' ball hog that day?

          • KeatonsCorner

            Shhhh. Statsheet don't lie!

            Even when you can't read it!

            Per ESPN's shot tracker, Staten missed 5 shots in the first half.

            It's obvious Eagle hasn't watched a game all season

    • KeatonsCorner

      Says he didn't watch the game........

      still feels he can critique the play..........

      lol, gotta love this fan base.

      No, Staten WASN'T playing me-first basketball at all. He took what was given to him by the Horns' defense. The shots didn't fall early. That's all...

      • tw eagle

        yes , I will critique the the play . . . the stat sheet DON'T lie . . .when the shots don't fall ,stop shooting . . . it was falling behind EARLY that led to the thrashing WVU took in Texas . . . you can try and make excuses for this 'dyed-in-the-wool'
        ball hog but shooting the ball that much without making 5 or 6 shots KILLS the team . . . WVU ran a winning streak up on playing good TEAM ball , excellent ball distribution & a defense that was beginning to 'get it ' . . . the ball hogs play at Texas will DEFINITELY put the spotlight back on Smart (ha ha ) for XII honors . . . Bob Cousy was a team player who led Boston to a 'few' championships . . . 'Pistol Pete' never passed on any chance to shoot . . . ball hog resembles the latter more the WINNER , Mr Cousy . . .

  • john b

    It would be nice to win and we should win. However MUST WIN is not accurate.

    • Low Rider

      Respectfully disagree john b. If WVU loses Saturday...we will not win at Iowa State and Oklahoma. With 14 losses...we are NIT bound unless we win the Big 12 Tourney.

  • JimJim

    Is anyone going to the game? Has the wine service started?

    • KeatonsCorner

      You wanna go, Jim Kinzer?

      I can pick ya up at whatever old folks home you're at these days..........

    • B A Winner

      Apparently the "whine" service has.

  • jay zoom

    mad hatter have you been in the sauce again' I believe Baylor will be ready this time. and unless Dibo wakes up and figures out he is playing basketball and not tiddly winks we could be in for another day. oh by the way THANKS OLLIE

    • GoEers

      jayzoom why do you care so much about WVU your favorite team Marshall that irrelevant?

    • B A Winner

      I thank Ollie every day for keeping us relevant. Glad you do too.

      • Aaron

        + 1

  • RickeyT

    I think Huggs has something like this in mind at least defensively because when asked what the plan is to stop their inside game, he said that their inside game is so much better when they can kick it out to their shooters. Sounds like maybe he realizes we can only slow down their bigs but if we can stop their guards, we can take our lumps inside and still win. I still like the intangibles in this game; sometimes it's more about that than bigs or rebounding or the things that go on between the lines.

  • Aaron

    This should be an interesting game. Baylor, picked among the top of the Big 12, came out of the gate sluggish and have only recently began playing what resembles team basketball comes into an environment that is as good as any in the Big 12 to play a game in which the winner gets the edge on an NCAA berth, at least until the next version of bracketology comes out.

    We know WV cannot compete inside against taller teams thus instead of giving minutes a second post player, I would like to see WVU play Adrian and Dibo along with Harris, Henderson and Staten at times and see if by spreading the floor with shooters, they can do more damage than with the bigs in the game.

    • Barry

      I agree Aaron. I think that is a good game plan. Hopefully we will be hitting our shots.

  • RickeyT

    I like the intangibles too in this game, being at home and them coming off the big winning streak of 3 at TCU and home vs KState and OSU, and us coming off the away loss at Texas. They will be riding a wave of false confidence and meet a wall of resistance and determination. On the other hand I'd be real happy with any ole kind of win.

  • mad hatter

    this is a underused statement , but this is a must win for us. If we can't beat baylor on our home court, then this maybe it for this season.
    I say we win, big , just like iowa st... home court , we're used to the rims, home crowd, if anyone shows up,,, and booby will be up to all of his tricks..

    we should pull this one off with no sweat.

  • duckhunter

    Typo in paragraph three; big should be bid.
    Typo in paragraph 16; pin should be in.

    That is all.

    • B A Winner

      Oooh! I like the corrections angle you're taking. Maybe it'll keep these guys from just "phoning it in". The only thing missing is not hearing Men At Work's "It's a Mistake" playing in the background. Keep up the good work!