Baylor's Pierre Jackson soars in front of West Virginia's Kevin Noreen (34) for a layup.
WACO, Texas -- Well, perhaps that three-game West Virginia winning streak really was simply a product of the competition.The case can certainly be made after what the Mountaineers did Wednesday night here at the Ferrell Center.Starting poorly, finishing even worse and making headliners out of two Baylor bit players, West Virginia was simply crushed by the Bears, 80-60.And afterward, no one was making excuses. Not that any were available if they wanted them."We just stopped competing,'' said freshman guard Eron Harris. "I don't know why, but we just stopped.''As did West Virginia's short winning streak.The loss snapped that three-game run of success for West Virginia (12-12, 5-6 Big 12), which still has not beaten a Big 12 team other than the bottom three in the standings of Texas, TCU and Texas Tech. But at least the Mountaineers have a chance to sweep those three when they face Texas Tech Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum.Baylor (16-8, 7-4), which endured a three-game losing streak and seemed on the verge of a collapse a week ago, has now recovered to win two straight.
How did West Virginia manage such a collapse? Well, it happened on multiple fronts. For starters, they turned the ball over 18 times and were in foul trouble virtually from the outset. They wasted a big rebounding edge, 34-23, over one of the best rebounding teams in the Big 12 and they couldn't shoot from the outside."We threw the ball to them,'' coach Bob Huggins said of the turnovers, the number of which matched a season high in Big 12 games for WVU. "Then we started hanging our heads.''But just as significantly, West Virginia made absolute stars out of two guys named Brady Heslip and Rico Gathers. Anyone who isn't familiar with them can be excused. They average a combined 14 points per game for Baylor.Wednesday night against the Mountaineers? They combined for 42 points, making 14 of 18 shots between them.
Heslip, a junior guard who averages 8.3 points, made six 3-pointers and scored 20 points. Gathers, a 6-8, 260-pound freshman averaging 5.8 points, not only had a career-high 22 points, but added nine rebounds and had four dunks.Heslip's performance was reminiscent of that of Phil Forte of Oklahoma State. Another light scorer, Forte also made six 3s against the Mountaineers and scored 26 points. And afterward West Virginia's players were kicking themselves for allowing a guy whose only real attribute is shooting the ball to get open and shoot the ball.Ditto Heslip Wednesday night.
"You can't leave him open. He's going to make shots,'' Huggins said of Heslip, who transferred from Boston College two years ago. "Everybody in the country knows he's going to make shots, except for the six or seven guys we had guarding him.''Throw in 15 points and nine assists from Big 12 preseason player of the year Pierre Jackson and Baylor pretty much had its way.Harris scored 19 points and Deniz Kilicli 13 for West Virginia.After falling behind 7-0 at the start and then battling back to pretty much make it a see-saw game the rest of the first half, West Virginia hung around only a few minutes at the start of the second before Baylor used a quick run to nearly break the game open the first time.Leading by the 38-34 about five minutes into the second half, Baylor sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers by Heslip around a steal and layup by Jackson and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game.The Mountaineers did manage to make it competitive for a little while longer, but that lasted only as long as Heslip wasn't working himself free. He hit two more 3s and Gathers scored inside and suddenly it was a 19-point lead, 63-44, and it was over.
West Virginia couldn't have started the game much worse. The Mountaineers turned the ball over on five of their first seven possessions and managed only two shots in falling behind 7-0. But just as quickly, they composed themselves for the most part and made it a game.They did so the remainder of the first half by shooting well and rebounding. At one point West Virginia was shooting 60 percent late in the half before missing their last five shots and finished the half with a whopping 22-10 rebounding advantage.Baylor's Gary Franklin made a 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer to give the Bears a 31-27 halftime cushion. It was his only field goal of the game.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.