Struggling Mountaineers welcome 12th-ranked Baylor

Assured of a losing record in the regular season, West Virginia looks to get right when it welcomes No. 12 Baylor for a 6 p.m. matchup Saturday inside the WVU Coliseum that will be carried by ESPN2.

The Mountaineers (8-16, 3-8) have dropped three straight and have yet to win in February, though they do return to their home floor, where they’ve recorded all eight victories against six losses.

The challenge, however, gets no easier against a surging Bears’ squad that’s won four of its last five since a three-game skid. Baylor (18-6, 7-4) remains in the thick of the race for a Big 12 regular season championship, trailing co-league leaders Houston and Iowa State by one game.

“More than anything, we all have to look ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we can do to help our program be successful,” WVU interim head coach Josh Eilert said. “That’s top to bottom and it starts with me. Everybody in the program can find ways to improve and that’s where we’re at. We have to look at as what can we do today to improve? Can we be the best version of ourselves today? And let’s figure out how to be the best version of ourselves the next day.”

West Virginia last played Monday when it suffered an 81-65 loss at TCU, a result that came two days after the Mountaineers’ 36-point setback at Texas.

A team that has struggled for much of the season and suffered seven of its eight Big 12 losses by double digits continues to search for answers after waiting more than half the season to play with its full roster.

“There’s times the effort and intensity starts lagging but I feel like they respond fairly well in the majority of moments,” Eilert said. “That can be said for a team that’s playing really well because we are in the dog days of the season. Trying to figure out how we are most efficient with our time to make sure we get the most out of each drill and it carries over to the next scout and opponent. Certainly, there’s moments where you’re lacking effort and we get them refocused. We still have a lot of opportunity ahead of us and that’s the way we look at it.”

RaeQuan Battle enters Saturday’s contest as WVU’s top scorer at 15.6 points over his 14 games played, while center Jesse Edwards is second with a 14.4 scorin average in 15 contests. Edwards is also the team’s top rebounder with an average of 8.1.

Despite missing the season’s first nine games, point guard Kerr Kriisa leads the Mountaineers with 42 three-pointers and joins forward Quinn Slazinski as the team’s other double-figure scorers with averages of 11.3 and 13, respectively.

The Mountaineers will be tasked with defending one of the more balanced teams in all of college basketball. The Bears have six players averaging double-figure scoring for the season, though 6-foot-5 guard Langston Love has missed each of the last two games due to injury. Love is the team’s third-leading scorer with an average of 11.5 points, behind fellow guards Ja’Kobe Walter (14.1) and RayJ Dennis (13.2).

“They seem to always load up on guards and they have a guard-heavy team,” Eilert said. “Not to take anything away from their forwards. They’ve always had the strength in numbers with their guards and it’s no different next year.”

Feb 13, 2024; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears forward Jalen Bridges (11) scores a three point basket against Oklahoma Sooners forward Jalon Moore (14) during the second half at Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Center Yves Missi averages 11 points and 5.7 rebounds, while Fairmont native and West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges is at 10.8 points. Guard Jayden Nunn rounds out the double-figure scorers with a 10.5 average.

As for Bridges, the 2019 Bill Evans Award winner as West Virginia’s top high school player spent three years and played two seasons at West Virginia and is now in his second season with the Bears.

The 10.8 scoring average to this point is a career best, and it’s come on 45.7 percent shooting, including 40.2 percent from long range with nearly two three-pointers per game.

“I saw Jalen in Kansas City at Big 12 Media Days and I always had a wonderful relationship with Jalen,” Eilert said. “I was excited to see him and give him a hug. I have no ill will towards Jalen by any means and I don’t think he has any ill will towards me. You create relationships in the recruiting process and you know their family and run into their family in the community. Going against him in a different colored jersey will probably be stranger for me as a head coach than it was as an assistant. 

“In this business, you want your guys to succeed one way or another. I care about Jalen and I hope he does well — just not against the Mountaineers.”

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