KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Keenan Evans was a hobbled cheerleader the last time No. 14 Texas Tech faced No. 18 West Virginia.
Now the Red Raiders’ all-conference guard is back in uniform, and back in his playmaking groove, as they rematch in the Big 12 tournament semifinals Friday night.
“High, high confidence,” Evans said after scoring 25 points in a 73-69 victory over Texas. “We got everybody back. We’re getting healthier by the day. We all know what we can do and what we’re capable of.”
While Texas Tech (24-8) advanced past the quarterfinals for the first time since 2005, West Virginia (23-9) recently has grown accustomed to making deep runs at the Sprint Center. Runners-up for the past two years, the Mountaineers rode a torrid second half to beat Baylor 78-65 in Thursday’s late game.
Esa Ahmad, Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter combined for 58 points to disrupt the Bears’ zone.
“When you win, everybody shines. When you lose, nobody shines,” said Carter, who also handed out 11 assists.
That trio will face another sort of look from the man-to-man defense of Texas Tech, which ranks fourth nationally in the KenPom defensive efficiency ratings.
In Lubbock on Jan, 3, the Red Raiders prevailed 77-76 in overtime. West Virginia took revenge with last week’s 84-74 win in Morgantown on senior night. Evans sat out that game with a sprained toe.
Thanks to five days in the training room, that injury became a distant memory against the Longhorns. Evans played 35 minutes, made 7-of-10 shots from floor and got to the foul line 14 times by attacking the rim.
“I’m getting there, man,” he said. “I’m getting there.”
While Texas Tech and West Virginia are NCAA tournament locks, their coaches are fiery personalities who demand defense and toughness and would take pride in hanging a championship banner.
“We just don’t want it to end. We want to keep playing,” said the Red Raiders’ Chris Beard, who shared Big 12 coach of the year honors with Bill Self. “I want to keep coaching these guys and I want to coach them two more times in Kansas City and six times in the NCAA tournament.”
Evans averages 17.4 points and is the ideal counterpart to Carter, who scores 17 per game and leads the conference in steals. Both players were lightly recruited out of high school only to emerge as elite seniors.
Carter scored 28 points in Lubbock and another 21 on West Virginia’s senior night with Evans watching. Now we’ll be watching them go head-to-head at Sprint Center.
No. 18 West Virginia (23-9) vs. No. 14 Texas Tech (24-8)
Tipoff: Friday 9 p.m. at Sprint Center (ESPN 2)
Quotable: “These guys have a chip on their shoulder and they’re trying to do things that have never been done before at Texas Tech.” — Red Raiders coach Chris Beard
Quotable: “All my teammates look at me and JC, so I try to stay positive through everything.” — Daxter Miles on leading West Virginia’s turnaround after a slow start vs. Baylor
Prediction: West Virginia 71-67