MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After 14 straight wins, West Virginia is believing it can conquer the Big 12 and maybe more.
Enjoying heights not seen since 1959, the Mountaineers (14-1, 3-0) climbed to No. 2 in the latest AP poll and will aim to keep rolling when Baylor (11-4, 1-2) visits Tuesday night.
West Virginia is tied for the early league lead but positioning itself to dethrone Kansas will require a break from recent history, because it has never put together a perfect home record in Big 12 play. In fact, 7-2 was the best home record since the Mountaineers changed conferences.
“We’ve got to protect our home floor if we want to win this league,” said freshman Teddy Allen, who is emerging as an offensive force off the West Virginia bench.
He scored 20 points in Saturday’s 89-76 victory over then-No. 7 Oklahoma, giving the 6-foot-5 forward 57 in his last three games on 24-of-34 shooting. Allen was especially effective in the second half when All-American candidate Jevon Carter picked up his fourth foul.
“We’ve got some guys who are just aggressive, so if someone who usually scores the ball goes out, then we just get to be more aggressive,” Allen said.
Carter still finished with 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, and his defense frustrated Sooners standout Trae Young into a season-worst eight turnovers.
“JC gets fouls because he makes (defensive) plays other people can’t make,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “He reaches in there and snatches the ball away or knocks it out their hand, so I’m sure he’s hard to officiate.
“He’s as good an on-the-ball defender as anybody I’ve ever had.”
Baylor, which avoided an 0-3 Big 12 start by downing Texas 69-60, is getting re-acclimated to forward T.J. Maston after a hand injury sidelined the senior for five games.
“We’ve got nine active scholarship players,” Scott Drew said after Saturday’s win. “Year to date, we’ve had zero practices with all nine. This isn’t the year to go into the Big 12 limping, but if we can keep guys healthy and get a rotation we can get some things.”
The Bears used big performances from point guard Manu Lecomte (16.8 points, 5.3 assists) and center Jo Acuil (16.1 points, 9.8 rebounds) to beat the Longhorns, while freshman Mark Vital (7.7 points, 4.7 rebounds) is growing into his role.
Baylor needs its zone defense, backed by Acuil’s shot-blocking, to make a fifth consecutive NCAA run.
“We always preach defense and to keep (opponents) under a certain field goal percentage so we we’re just trying to achieve that goal, play hard, and play for each other,” Maston said. “We have to grind out every game in the Big 12 because it’s so stacked from top to bottom.”
Baylor (11-4, 1-2) No. 2 West Virginia (14-1, 3-0)
Tipoff: Tuesday, 7 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va. (ESPN2)
The skinny: Tuesday’s game marks 364 days since Baylor came to the WVU Coliseum ranked No. 1 only to lose 89-68 while committing 29 turnovers. Still, the Bears have been the most successful Big 12 opponent in Morgantown, going 3-2. … WVU center Sagaba Konate (9.1 points, 7.2 rebounds) is coming off his third double-double of the season with 16 points and 13 boards against Oklahoma. … While Carter averages a team-high 16.7 per game, the Mountaineers are spreading out the offensive contributions among Daxter Miles (13.9 points), Lamonte West (12.9 points), Beetle Bolden (10.5 points) and Teddy Allen (9.7 points). … This figures to be WVU’s last game without suspended forward Esa Ahmad. who is wrapping up a half-season NCAA ban.
RPIs: West Virginia 11, Baylor 89
Line: West Virginia favored by 9
Prediction: West Virginia 77-70