Funny, isn’t it, how seasons and expectations turn on a dime. Or on a Juwan Staten pivot.
Five days after the point guard whirled through the Kansas defense for the game-winning basket, his burst was still blistering and his team still feeling rejuvenated. Staten scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half and fueled No. 23 West Virginia to another marquee victory, 73-63 over 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State.
“The confidence to beat Kansas and just play the way we played against them was huge” said Staten, who added seven assists. “We’re just trying to stay within ourselves, do what we’re supposed to do and just see what happens.”
What happened Saturday—Staten & Co. completely controlling the second half against a team they haven’t beaten the past two years—proved that the Kansas upset wasn’t a fluke. And that the midseason slump in which WVU couldn’t shoot or defend might have been nothing beyond one of those inevitable slides teams tend to suffer.
That stretch of three losses in four games was ugly enough to make anyone wonder whether the Mountaineers stood a chance against quality teams. Well, after holding Kansas to 61 points and Oklahoma State to 63, it’s apparent they stand a pretty fair chance.
Saturday’s win hardly followed the script. WVU wasn’t supposed to be even at halftime with Staten’s minutes snipped by foul trouble. Nor was it supposed to sink 10-of-20 3-pointers when Oklahoma State had been allowing 31 percent. (In truth, is WVU supposed to make that many in an empty gym?)
But Gary Browne mitigated Staten’s absence with a career-high 18 points and made three timely daggers from deep. When Daxter Miles made both of his 3s, you thought West Virginia was unseasonably warm. When BillyDee Williams made both of his 3s, you checked your pulse.
The accumulation of those shots, and the fact Browne refused to let Phil Forte shoot any of his own, kept the Mountaineers comfortably ahead throughout the final 15 minutes. It didn’t hurt that for the second straight game Oklahoma State couldn’t buy a rebound.
“We just got killed on the offensive glass, and they took advantage of every mistake,” said OSU coach Travis Ford. “We didn’t get a lot of stops. Where our defense has been so good at times, it’s really letting us down in second halves and in rebounding.”
Ford wore the same fretful expression that marked Bob Huggins last week, as if their teams had exchanged places and crises. West Virginia certainly has enjoyed a 180-degree turn in confidence and effort. No longer does it resemble a team straggling into a double-digit seed and a one-and-done stay at the NCAA tournament.
West Virginia left Stillwater with a 6-6 mark against RPI top-50 teams and its own RPI at No. 25 and climbing. That equates to at least a No. 6 seed in the Dance, a situation that could improve Tuesday if the funky bunch from Texas arrives in Morgantown still in an underachieving mood.
That’s no certainty, of course, given how rapidly the moods spike and sputter in this year’s Big 12 race.