Thursday, July 27, 2017

WVU looking to break the mold in Big 12 tournament

Nathan Adrian (11) and Tarik Phillip (12) share a laugh during WVU's shoot around on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.  (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Nathan Adrian (11) and Tarik Phillip (12) share a laugh during WVU’s shoot around on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The West Virginia University basketball team is making its fourth appearance in the Big 12 tournament, but the Mountaineers are yet to win a game.

Second-seeded WVU will be searching for that first win against the 10th-seeded TCU Horned Frogs on Thursday.

TCU is a team that has not beaten the Mountaineers since the two teams joined the conference in 2012.

WVU squeaked out a 95-87 win over the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth on Jan.4, but the last time the teams met the Mountaineers thumped TCU 73-42 in Morgantown.

But the Big 12 tournament hasn’t been friendly to WVU, no matter what happens in the season series.

In 2013 the Mountaineers had beaten Texas Tech twice in the regular season, but the Red Raiders knocked off WVU 71-69 in the opening round of the tournament.

The following season Texas dominated the Mountaineers defeating them twice in the regular season and manhandling them in the tournament.

That sentiment repeated itself last season when Baylor beat WVU twice in the regular season and in the tournament.

But this season’s team is a better team than that of years past. This Mountaineer team is healthy and focused on the prize ahead.

Jonathan Holton (1) dunks during WVU's shoot around on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Jonathan Holton (1) dunks during WVU’s shoot around on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Last season WVU was without its top two point guards Gary Browne and Juwan Staten and that was a loss that hurt.

“We didn’t have out two senior guards so now you are taking a guy that has never played point guard before and handing him the ball and say go win the game for us,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “That’s tough. And we played well for 30 minutes or 30 some minutes and then just made some really critical mistakes at the wrong times.

“But I’d like to think if Juwan Staten and Gary Brown had the ball, we wouldn’t make those mistakes. That was a tough situation to overcome. Particularly in light of losing the two guys that play point guard. It wasn’t just the one, it was losing two of them.”

This time around Jevon Carter and Tarik Phillip are both healthy and have an entire year of experience at running the point.

“Well a year later, we still have two point guards and thank goodness neither one of them have gotten hurt to this point,” Huggins added. “So we are better off.”

The only questionable injury on this team was that of Jonathan Holton, but Huggins says the 6-foot-7 senior forward is ready to go.

“He’s good. He’s good,” Huggins said. “He went full-go yesterday (Tuesday) and full-go today (Wednesday). So he’s fine.”

With a healthy, Holton WVU’s press is likely to flourish. The Mountaineers force opponents to turn the ball over 24.9 percent of their possessions, which is the best percentage in the nation.

WVU averages 21.0 points off turnovers and 17.4 points per game from second chance points.

The Mountaineers bench has been a huge asset this season, averaging 34.3 ppg and scoring 30 points or more in 20 of the last 23 games.

Elijah Macon (45) shoots free throws during WVU's shoot around on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Photo credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Elijah Macon (45) shoots free throws during WVU’s shoot around on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
(Photo credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

For WVU even thought it is searching for that elusive tournament win, it isn’t just about that. The Mountaineers want it all.

“It means a lot,” senior guard Jaysean Paige said. “We want rings and banners. So like I said we are going to leave it all out there. Nothing is a guarantee so we are just going to play our hardest and try to advance.”

That was the goal from the go with this WVU team.

“I think it was the day before the first practice, I told them, decide what you want to do. It’s not for me to decide, It’s for you to decide,” Huggins said. “My job is to try and help you the best I can to achieve your goals. So they came up with all the goals. It wasn’t me. I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I wasn’t in the room. I came in they had it written down on the grease board in the film room. This is what we want to do.”

The Mountaineers know what is at steak on Thursday evening and what they want.

“Everyone knows what they are playing for now,” Holton said. “Everyone is on the same page. We have a couple veteran leaders and stuff like that so we can get the younger guys going. Coach Huggins expects a lot from us because we got eight or nine returning guys. Honest to God, we can beat ourselves or we can listen to coach and play really hard and just do what we do best like apply pressure and rebound the basketball.”

“I feel like we got to come out and play as hard as we can,” Phillip said.

WVU will go for its first win at 7 p.m. (ET) on Thursday against TCU.

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