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Longhorns hook West Virginia early in 88-71 domination

AUSTIN, Texas – There were a few things that made the difference in a bad way for the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday night.

Taking a beating in the paint, poor transition defense and the inability to create consistent offense all contributed to the Mountaineers suffering an 88-71 loss at the hands of the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was frustrated with his team’s lack of execution. While Texas got easy shot opportunities, the Mountaineers (15-11, 7-6) endured a 39.7-percent shooting night and dug themselves a hole with just nine baskets and six turnovers in the first half.

Huggins kept his team in the postgame locker room to deliver an extended message. “I said a lot of things,” he said, “most of which ought to stay in there.”

To say Texas (20-5, 9-3) dominated in the paint would be a gross understatement. The Longhorns, led by a strong effort from sophomore center Cameron Ridley, outscored West Virginia 46-14 in the paint.

Ridley bullied the Mountaineers down low en route to 17 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, setting the tone for a convincing Texas win.

“It’s hard to guard him when you don’t stay between him and the basket,” Huggins said. “We just tried to do some things differently than we did in the first half.”

The first half is when the Longhorns took over. Sophomore guard Terry Henderson converted a four-point play after being fouled by Texas guard Martez Walker, putting the Mountaineers ahead 14-11 at the 11:22 mark of the first half.

From then on the Longhorns went on a 17-2 run over stretch that last exactly six minutes. During the Texas run West Virginia shot just 1-for-7 from the floor and committed three turnovers.

That run exemplified Huggins’ frustration with a team that had played so well in winning five of its previous seven games entering Saturday’s night tilt with the Longhorns.

“We have to be more resilient during the game,” Huggins said. “When things don’t go your way you don’t stop playing, you play harder.”

Poor transition defense ended up being a byproduct of what West Virginia did well when the two teams matched up in Morgantown earlier this season. The Mountaineers 1-3-1 trap, which gave the Longhorns fits the first time these two teams met, was something Texas was prepared to see this time around.

The Longhorns ran the floor well, attacked gaps properly and moved the ball with the kind of precision that set up enough good looks to make for a 57.9-percent night shooting the ball.

“Their guards are terrific,” Huggins said of a Texas backcourt that had three members score in double figures, led by 18 points from sophomore Javan Felix. “They’re tough to keep out of the lane. I don’t think anybody has kept them out of the lane all year.”

Huggins cited Texas’ size and length as a problem. With the Mountaineers unable to get anything going to on the interior it made it easier for the Longhorns to defend Juwan Staten.

The Big 12’s second-leading scorer finished with 14 points on 6-for-16 shooting with most of his points coming after the game had been decided. Nine of Eron Harris’ 21 points came from the free-throw line, making for a tough night for the Mountaineers when two of the team’s top players combined to shoot 11-for-31 from the field.

“I don’t care who you are when you miss shot after shot,” Huggins said. “We kept waiting for Eron and (Staten) to make a shot and they had tough days.”

The Mountaineers will have to stew on this loss for a while. WVU is off until next Saturday when it returns home to face Baylor. With only five games left in the regular season, Huggins has some time to get his team to regroup and finish out a schedule that includes road trips to Iowa State (Feb. 26) and Oklahoma (March 5) and the regular season finale at home against Kansas (March 8).

“We’ve got to do a better job of helping each other, making better [defensive] rotations,” Huggins said. “Doing what you’re supposed to be doing all the time.”

—Jeff Howe

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