MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia visited then-No. 1 Baylor, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins spoke of the big, bad Bears in reverent fashion, calling them the best man-to-man defense he’s seen all season.
But Huggins is presenting a different message with West Virginia hosting the now-No. 4 Bears (26-3, 15-2 Big 12) on senior day.
“We didn’t make a shot. It’s not like we didn’t have shots,” Huggins said on Friday. “We turned it over 22 times. Gave it to them. That’s our fault. Way more to do with us than it had to do with them.”
And before you could say “But isn’t Baylor still the Big 12’s best def…”
“Everybody in this league plays good defense. I don’t think they stand out,” Huggins continued. “I don’t think I should say that; Scott will have it all over the board. But are they any different than Kansas? Any different than Texas Tech? I don’t think so. There’s a lot of really good coaches in this league.”
Huggins pulled another reversal this week during practice.
As hard as he’s been on his team at times in public conversation, Huggins believes he’s been easier on them in practice because they are a likable group of players. That has ended with the postseason around the corner.
“I was harder on them [Thursday] than I have been in a long time,” Huggins said. “I’m not putting the hammer down, I’m doing what I should have done for a long time. That’s not their fault, that’s my fault.”
Huggins’ course in reverse psychology even continued when describing the stakes of Saturday’s game.
There is seemingly more on the table for Baylor, which needs a win and a Kansas loss in order to earn a share of its first regular-season conference title since 1950. The Bears are also playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
West Virginia (20-10, 8-9) is safely in the NCAA field, but needs a win to assure itself of a bye in the Big 12 tournament.
“I think we’ve got more to play for than they do,” Huggins said. “We’re playing for a better seed in the [conference] tournament and a better seed in the NCAA tournament. A better seed in our tournament and some wins there will enhance our seed in the NCAA tournament.”
If West Virginia loses and TCU beats Oklahoma, the Mountaineers open the Big 12 tournament against Kansas State as the No. 7 seed on Wednesday, meaning the road to a championship would require four wins in four days.
West Virginia will honor its three seniors — forward Jermaine Haley, guard Chase Harler and center Logan Routt — in a pregame ceremony that begins 20 minutes before the 1 p.m. tip.
Harler (Moundsville) and Routt (Cameron) are both West Virginia residents who have been with the program four years. Haley, a Vancouver, British Columbia native, spent two seasons with the program after transferring from Odessa (Texas) Junior College.
No. 4 Baylor (26-3, 15-2) at West Virginia (20-10, 8-9)
Streaming: ESPN-Plus, 1 p.m.
Last Meeting: Baylor won, 70-59, on Feb. 15 at Baylor