KANSAS CITY, Mo.–With Kansas and Baylor eradicated from the Phillips 66 Men’s Basketball Championship, the door is wide-open for second-seeded West Virginia University to win the prize.
However, it won’t be an easy task.
“It’s a great league,” Mountaineers guard Daxter Miles Jr. said. “You can’t look past anybody. Anybody can win any given night. We just have to focus on one game at a time.”
Consequently, that is exactly what WVU must do as they take on No. 6 seeded Kansas State on Friday night.
For the Wildcats, they are playing for more than just a trip to the Big 12 Championship. K-State was playing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament and maybe even Bruce Weber’s job.
With everything on the line, the Wildcats knocked off the third-seeded Bears 70-64 on Thursday night.
Barry Brown poured in 21 points, including several clutch shots down the stretch. While the sophomore guard struggled from the charity stripe most of the season, he made 6-of-8 in the final minutes against Baylor.
Because when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
Things didn’t go as smoothly for the Mountaineers in their 63-53 victory over Texas. But as assistant coach Larry Harrison said after the game, “Hey, we are still playing.”
Junior guard Jevon Carter was the only consistency in WVU’s offense. He tallied 21 points but the Mountaineers used their pressure defense to beat the Longhorns.
WVU forced 14 turnovers. However, they committed 13.
The Mountaineers also struggled to make free throws, shooting just 50 percent from the line.
“We can’t keep playing like this if we want to go far,” Carter said. “We got to clean it up. But we got the win. An ugly win is better than a loss.”
If WVU gets past K-State, they will meet either No. 4 seeded Iowa State or No. 8 seeded TCU in the championship.
The Horned Frogs are a pesky team, playing for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountaineers struggled with Jamie Dixon’s squad in both regular season meetings this season.
Currently, TCU has all the momentum in the world, riding an 85-82 victory over the No.1 team in the nation on Thursday.
Early on in the game, the Horned Frogs fell behind by 12 but refused to go away. TCU rallied to lead the Jayhawks at the half.
Trailing 80-76 with 2:18 left in the game, Brandon Parrish and Alex Robinson sank a pair of free throws apiece to tie the game at 80-all. Robinson’s driving layup gave the Horned Frogs an 82-80 lead, which diminished seconds when Mason sank two free throws.
Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk fouled Desmond Bane, who put up a 3-point shot with 2.5 seconds left. Bane drained all three free throws, giving TCU (19-14) a three-point edge.
At the buzzer, Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham threw up a desperation 3 but missed.
“Anybody can beat anybody,” WVU forward Nathan Adrian said. “That’s an eight seed beating a one seed. So it doesn’t really matter you got to come to play.”
While the favorite to win the tournament has been eliminated, Carter doesn’t believe the field has opened up any more.
“TCU could be the top seed now,” he said. “We just got to focus. It’s not about the other team, it’s about us. If we come out and do what we do, we can beat anybody.”
Now, the four remaining schools have a new set of confidence and it’s any teams for the taking.
“It gives other teams confidence,” Miles said. “But like I said anything can happen on any given night so we”ll what happens.”
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS