All the gloom and grumpiness from Saturday’s loss at Kansas must be rechannelled. The drive for a Big 12 championship exists now as merely a mathematical possibility rather than a realistic one, but No. 21 West Virginia faces a very real fight Tuesday night.
Inside the Waco Ferrell Center looms the hottest team in the conference.
By winning five straight, Baylor (17-10, 7-7) resurrected its NCAA tournament ambitions and proved it could survive by varying methods. The latest episode turned up a gritty 59-57 upset of now-No. 6 Texas Tech.
“But that’s not enough,” said Bears point guard Manu Lecomte. “There’s definitely not a comfort level right now. We still have a lot of work to do.”
The Mountaineers (19-8, 8-6) must work to recover from their 77-69 loss at Kansas, a gut-punch of a game that featured a double-digit blown lead and a 35-2 discrepancy in free-throw attempts. The officiating became such an obvious topic that coach Bob Huggins got himself ejected and told his team the loss “was not their fault.”
But the players knew they were outscored 19-3 over the final 3:33, lacking the poise and execution to stop the Kansas comeback.
Now they encounter a Baylor team that lost 57-54 in Morgantown when Lecomte missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The largest difference between Baylor then and now is the sparkling play of sixth-man Terry Maston. He went scoreless while seeing only 11 minutes in the first meeting, but his most recent two performances resulted in 26 points at Texas and 24 vs. Texas Tech.
“You put him in the mix with their other players and no one wants to play Baylor in the last month of the season,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard.
No. 21 West Virginia (19-8, 8-6) at Baylor (17-10, 7-7)
Tipoff: Tuesday, 7 p.m. in Waco, Texas (ESPN2)
The skinny: Over the past three run-ins with Press Virginia, Baylor has committed 68 turnovers. “We’ve had a number of them the last few years against them,” coach Scott Drew said. “The big thing is handling the pressure and making sure you’re getting quality shots. They have the best defensive player in the nation and has the most steals in Jevon Carter. And then you add the fifth-best shot blocker in the nation (Sagaba Konate), it makes it tough if you get to the rim to finish.” … Lecomte (16.5 points) owns the second-highest 3-point percentage in school history. … 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil (14.2 points, 9.2 rebounds) and the 6-8 Maston (10.6 points) typically give Baylor a big advantage in paint scoring.
Scouting WVU: Daxter Miles (12.2 points) regained his scoring touch with a 22-point game at Kansas in which e made 6-of-8 from 3. … Jevon Carter continues to be a scorer (16.9) and facilitator (6.8) while leading the Big 12 in steals (3.1). … Sagaba Konate (10.4 points, 7.9 rebounds) endured a heavyweight battle against Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike but may have to extend his defense against Lual-Acuil, who has deeper shooting range. … WVU owns a 4-7 record since the reinstatement of Esa Ahmad (9.2 points, 4.2 rebounds). He has five points and five rebounds across 52 minutes the past two games. … This marks only the third time all season that West Virginia enters as the underdog.
RPIs: West Virginia 33, Baylor 47
Line: Baylor favored by 1
Prediction: Baylor 68-66