MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During a season littered with erratic swings, No. 21 West Virginia reached its lowest point on the night of Jan. 31 during a 93-77 loss at Iowa State.
The Big 12’s last-place Cyclones played shorthanded without point guard Nick Weiler-Babb yet out-hustled and overwhelmed West Virginia by shooting 62 percent.
Saturday brings a chance for the Mountaineers (20-8, 9-6) to avenge that blowout, and this time Iowa State (13-14, 4-11) will be even more undermanned.
Weiler-Babb finally has been shut down for the season with knee and back injuries, and forward Solomon Young (meniscus surgery) is finished also. Second-leading scorer Donovan Jackson has returned to Milwaukee for his father’s funeral and will miss the rematch, potentially leaving Iowa State with only six scholarship players.
That’s a perilous shortage for any game, much less when facing the sometimes-scalding tempo preferred by “Press Virginia.” The Cyclones have dropped five of their last six games.
“We’ll miss Donovan in regard to the extra ballhandler,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “We’ve got to take care of the ball. If you do that you give yourself a chance.”
Led by conference steals leader Jevon Carter, the Mountaineers force 17.2 turnovers per game, sixth-most in the nation. Their defense has alternated between suffocating and soft, however, resulting in puzzling late-game collapses.
Tuesday night’s 71-60 win at Baylor marked one of their stronger efforts, though they remain two games behind Kansas with the three regular-season games left. West Virginia was swept by the Jayhawks despite leaden both games by double-digits in the second half.
“I think we can beat anybody at any given time,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, while admitting his team’s Big 12 championship hopes are bleak.
“Right now, we’re playing for an NCAA seed.”
The same can’t be said of Iowa State, whose six-year run of NCAA tournament bids will end unless they win the conference tournament in Kansas City next month.
Jackson torched West Virginia for 25 points in the first meeting and Young made all six shots to finish with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Those players will be missing, but WVU must contend with two freshmen — guard Lindell Wigginton, who scored 22 points in Ames, and center Cameron Lard, who produced 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Iowa State (13-14, 4-11) at No. 21 West Virginia (20-8, 9-6)
Tipoff: Saturday, 6 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va. (ESPNU)
The skinny: Wigginton (15.9 points) figures to be Prohm’s point guard next season, while Lard (13.3 points, 8.2 rebounds) runs the floor well at 6-foot-9. He must match up against West Virginia sophomore shot-swatting phenom Sagaba Konate, who tied a program record with nine blocks at Baylor.
Scouting WVU: The Mountaineers are just fractions away from having six players average double figures scoring, led by Carter (16.8 points, 6.6 assists) and fellow senior Daxter Miles (12.1 points), who is playing better of late. Whether operating in the high or low post, Konate (10.4 points, 7.9 rebounds) has developed his offensive game. Wing former Lamont West (10.3 points) has attempted 134 shots from 3-point range and only 85 inside the arc. Junior forward Esa Ahmad (9.7 points, 4.2 rebounds) produced 15 points, three assists and only one turnover at Baylor. The Mountaineers are 11-4 in Ahmad’s career when he attempts 10 or more shots.
Quotable: “I refuse to answer on grounds it could incriminate me.” — Huggins when asked about this week’s Big 12 reprimand
RPIs: Iowa State 117, West Virginia 25
Prediction: West Virginia 84-62