West Virginia coach Bob Huggins leads his team against Texas Tech tonight.
LUBBOCK, Texas - There was only one acceptable goal for West Virginia's basketball team on its Big 12-opening, two-game road trip to Texas. Win both games.
The Mountaineers (9-5, 1-0 Big 12) are halfway there, having dispatched of TCU Saturday, 74-69, in Fort Worth. A win in tonight's 7 p.m. (ET) game with Texas Tech (8-6, 0-1) would complete the task.
The reason for the necessity to sweep, of course, is obvious. TCU and Texas Tech finished last and next-to-last in the Big 12 a season ago. They were chosen to finish in those positions again when the league's coaches voted on a preseason poll.
And so while losing to one of those teams on the road is neither unheard of nor insurmountable - Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State all lost on the road to one of those teams a year ago and made the NCAA tournament - it is certainly not the way WVU wants to start the season.
"We have to win these two games,'' sophomore guard Eron Harris said after coming off the bench (he had been sick all week) to score 22 points in the win at TCU. "Texas Tech and TCU, those are games we have to win. If we lose those games, we feel like we almost have no chance. We need to win these games and then we'll feel like we have a chance in the Big 12.''
The win Saturday in Fort Worth was a good start, even if it was at times closer than the Mountaineers would have liked. WVU would like to think that the main reason for the struggle with TCU was simply that the Horned Frogs shot the ball ridiculously well to start the game - including sinking their first seven 3-point attempts - and gained the kind of confidence that spurred them to a win over Kansas on the same floor a year ago.
"Definitely,'' Harris said when asked if he felt better about his team after the win. "Yeah, we had trouble, but we got the win. A W is a W.''
If nothing else, already West Virginia has accomplished something it never did in its first season in the Big 12 - get above .500. Last year the Mountaineers lost their opener at home against Oklahoma and despite getting to the break-even point several times - as late as 6-6 - never got over the hump and finished 6-12, losing the last six.
And, of course, then the losing skid reached seven and WVU's season ended with a loss to tonight's opponent, Texas Tech, in the play-in game of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. The Mountaineers had swept the Red Raiders in the regular season, but Dejan Kravic tipped in a missed shot just before the buzzer to give Tech a 71-69 win.
Kravic is back this season, along with most of Texas Tech's other scoring threats from a year ago, and the Red Raiders seem improved in veteran coach Tubby Smith's first season in Lubbock. Tech is just 8-6 and has more losses than any other team in the Big 12, but that's in great part due to a schedule that has included Arizona, Arizona State, Alabama, LSU and Pitt. And the Raiders are 0-1 in the league, but the loss was 73-62 Saturday to 13-0 Iowa State.
They still have athletic 6-foot-7 forwards Jaye Crockett (14.1 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Jordan Tolbert (12.5, 6.6), as well as the 7-foot Kravic (6.4, 4.1).
BRIEFLY: Tonight's game was originally scheduled to air on ESPNU, but was dropped in favor of ESPN's multi-platform coverage of tonight's BCS title game. It will instead air on the Big 12 Network (locally WQCW).
Bob Huggins and Smith have combined to win 1,241 games and have coached a combined 55 seasons. Yet they have met just twice. Smith won both, beating Cincinnati in the 2005 NCAA tournament while at Kentucky, and then defeating WVU in 2010 in a tournament in Puerto Rico while at Minnesota.
West Virginia will have gone a full month playing just one game at the Coliseum when they return home to face Oklahoma State Saturday. But that will be the first of three home games in 12 days, including one with Texas a week from today and then a rematch with Texas Tech on Jan. 22.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1