Tests continue for No. 14 West Virginia at No. 2 Baylor

NCAA Basketball

In the unforgiving grind of the Big 12 Conference schedule, every victory should be savored and every loss stings — especially the ones where you seemed to have a strong grip on a positive outcome.

West Virginia had a chance to notch a momentum-building win in a top-15 matchup against Texas on Saturday. It was the appetizer before heading into another tough test against No. 2 Baylor in Waco, Texas, on Tuesday.

Instead, the fourth-ranked Longhorns stunned the No. 14 Mountaineers 72-70 on Andrew Jones’ 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds to go. It was West Virginia’s third league loss and second in eight days by four points or fewer.

Jones’ dagger was the finisher of a 7-0 Texas run after West Virginia (9-4, 2-3 Big 12) forged a 70-65 lead with 1:41 left in the game.

“Real tough,” West Virginia’s Miles McBride said. “To have the lead almost the whole game and to give it up like that, it’s just a real tough one.”

The next challenge facing West Virginia is arguably its toughest so far this season.

Baylor (11-0, 5-0 Big 12) remained unscathed this season by rallying past TCU 67-49 in Fort Worth on Saturday and relied on a familiar recipe with an impressive offensive display in the second half.

After a cold-shooting first half (40.7 percent) when the Bears were 1-for-10 from 3-point territory, they heated up by knocking down 14-of-28 from the field over the final 20 minutes, 5-for-9 from deep.

Baylor’s pre-season All-American, Jared Butler, helped key the second-half charge and wound up with 28 points.

“We finally hit a 3,” Butler said. “That was big for us and our offense. We got some assisted 3’s, which was big for our offense as well. We continued the tenacious defense. (TCU) made some big shots in the first half, but our ability to play defense is really big.”

That Bears’ defense was strong most of the game, limiting the Horned Frogs to 33.3 percent shooting. TCU produced only eight points in the initial 8:30 after halftime, while Butler caught fire to ignite Baylor’s surge. It added up to the Bears winning the second half 40-21.

“I thought first half, when we weren’t making shots, if you’re a team that’s selfish or immature, then you let those missed shots affect your defense and everything else you do,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team is embarking on a gauntlet that includes matchups vs. No. 18 Texas Tech and No. 6 Kansas after the Mountaineers. “In the second half, our shots fell and we played better.”

The Bears are a nightmare when they start to click like they did in the second half. They lead the Big 12 with 89 points a game and are the league’s best shooting crew at 50.9 percent overall, as well as from outside the arc (42.8 percent). Butler is the third-highest scorer in the Big 12 with 16.4 points a game and teammate MaCio Teague is fifth at 15.7.

West Virginia’s defense has scuffled since big man Oscar Tshiebwe departed the program. The last four Big 12 foes have scored 72 points or more and the Mountaineers have trailed by double digits in three of those games.

The loss to Texas magnified the Mountaineers’ struggles. The athletic Longhorns outscored West Virginia 40-22 in the paint with 12 layups and four dunks.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Huggins said. “We tried 1-2-2 zone, it didn’t work. We tried 3-2 zone, it didn’t work. We tried 1-3-1, it didn’t work. Our man-to-man was much better than any of those. We tried to press, that didn’t work.”

–Field Level Media

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