FORT WORTH, Texas - All of a sudden, one of the worst shooting teams in America isn't, well, one of the worst shooting teams in America.OK, so it's not exactly one of the best, but it's doing a pretty good imitation.On Saturday here in front of a smallish crowd (announced as 5,192, but not) at Daniel-Meyer Arena, West Virginia shot 51.2 percent from the floor. It was no hot-streak fluke, either. The Mountaineers shot 52.6 percent in the first half and 50 in the second in beating TCU 63-50.Two games ago, also on the road in Texas, WVU shot 56.5 percent against Texas Tech. In between the Mountaineers made 46.2 percent against Texas. And despite a 4-for-13 performance against the Longhorns, West Virginia is still a combined 21 for 41 (51.2 percent) on 3-pointers during that time.
All this from a team that only a week or so was ranked 322nd in the country in 3-point shooting and only slightly better in overall field goal percentage.What gives?"I think we're just playing better,'' said sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds, who has bounced back from a scoreless game at Texas Tech last week to average 13 over the last two. "When you're playing well and guarding well and all those other things, it takes a little bit of pressure off the shooting.''The Mountaineers still ranked just No. 290 (out of 347 teams) in overall shooting percentage going into Saturday and had moved up to just No. 265 in 3-point percentage. But if the improved shooting can continue, the numbers won't matter.nn
Aaric Murray managed to render himself almost completely irrelevant Saturday, and it took him only 27 seconds.That's how long Murray was on the floor in the first half before he picked up two fouls and went back to the bench. He wouldn't return until well into the second half.When he did, though, he was a force.Playing just 13 minutes, most of it at the end, Murray had seven points, six rebounds, a 3-pointer, a steal and a block. He finished with four fouls and might have fouled out had the officials not been kind to him and not charged him with a foul after a video review to see if he'd thrown an elbow.That he managed to stay on the floor was one of the big differences for West Virginia."He only had seven points and six rebounds, but I thought he was great down the stretch,'' said coach Bob Huggins, who won while coaching the 1,000th game of his career. "I thought Deniz [Kilicli] was good, too.''Kilicli finished with eight points, two assists and two blocked shots.
Maybe the biggest plays by a big man, though, came from Kevin Noreen, who had only three rebounds but made them count.It came with just under nine minutes to play after TCU had cut an eight-point West Virginia lead to 44-40. The Mountaineers were on a little run and Murray was a big part of it, but the game hadn't been put away yet.Then leading 48-40 after an Eron Harris dunk and a Murray follow shot, WVU had the ball again. Harris tried a 3 and missed, but Noreen got the rebound and kicked it out to Terry Henderson, who missed another 3, his only misfire of the game.But then Noreen got that rebound, too, and got it out to Harris again. He drained that 3-pointer and it was suddenly an 11-point game. TCU never again got within seven."I thought that was a huge play for us,'' Huggins said. "That may have been the back-breaker.''nn
It can be argued that the so-called "soft'' portion of West Virginia's schedule is not yet over.
On Wednesday there's a third trip in less than two weeks back to Texas to face Baylor, about 90 miles south of here in Waco. The Bears are 15-8 and probably still safely in the NCAA tournament bracket for now after winning in a rout at home against Texas Tech Saturday, but they aren't playing well, having lost three straight before that.After the trip to Baylor comes a home game Saturday against Texas Tech, a team the Mountaineers beat rather handily in Lubbock a week ago.But then the schedule becomes brutal again. The final six games are against NCAA tournament-caliber teams, split evenly between home and road games. A trip to Kansas State for a Big Monday game on Feb. 18 is followed by home games with Oklahoma State and Baylor, trips to Kansas and Oklahoma and the home finale with Iowa State.Then comes the Big 12 tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City beginning March 13. If West Virginia can't manage to escape the bottom four in the league standings, the Mountaineers would play one of the two preliminary games on Wednesday that week, between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds and the Nos. 7 and 10 seeds. The winners advance into the regular eight-team bracket that begins Thursday, the winners facing the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.