KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Asked what No. 11 West Virginia could accomplish this week to prepare for the NCAA tournament, coach Bob Huggins swatted down the question like a Sagaba Konate rejection.
His team isn’t viewing the Big 12 tournament as mere preparation.
“We’d like to win this one,” Huggins said. “We talk all the time about hanging banners. Can’t hang a banner unless you win something.”
The Mountaineers (24-7) reached the Big 12 final last season only to lose 81-71 to Kansas. This time around, a Saturday night rematch against the perpetually top-seeded Jayhawks would suit West Virginia just fine, especially in light of how that late-game collapse transpired in Lawrence last month.
“We’ve got to take care of what we can, so we can see them one more time,” said Mountaineers forward Nathan Adrian.
A tendency toward enigmatic outputs has flummoxed Huggins this season. (“We’ve had days where, lets face it, we’ve had a couple guys who haven’t been real enthusiastic. and it kills you in pressure.”) Yet point guard Jevon Carter, fresh off being named the Big 12 defensive player of the year, expects his teammates’ intensity to be feverish at the Sprint Center.
“It’s a four-day tournament and we plan to be here all four days,” Carter said. “We plan on winning it all.”
The first obstacle is Thursday night’s quarterfinal matchup against 10th-seeded Texas (11-21), which rallied to upset seventh seed Texas Tech 61-52 in the opening round.
The duration of West Virginia’s stay may depend on Esa Ahmad’s readiness. Despite going 4-1 while he struggled with a lower back strain, the Mountaineers typically rely on their 6-foot-8 small forward for versatility in halfcourt offense.
“We’ve got to get Esa going. We’re a whole lot better with Esa,” Huggins said. “It gives us another rebounder, gives us another straight-line driver.”