MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Perhaps it is one of those temporary swings that take place in any basketball season, but at least for now the team that plays at the Coliseum tonight is on just a bit of a roll.And no, it's not West Virginia.Instead, it is Texas Tech, a team the Mountaineers handled in overtime just over two weeks ago in Lubbock. Since then, the Red Raiders dropped a close decision to Texas on the road and now have won two straight. The first of those was an upset of Baylor, which at the time was 13-2 and ranked No. 12 nationally.In other words, even the presumed easier games in the Big 12 aren't even as easy these days, especially for a West Virginia team that has its own problems amid a three-game losing streak.
"We're still a work in progress,'' said veteran coach Tubby Smith, who is in his first season at Texas Tech. "We just need to continue to play together.''Both teams get that chance tonight at the Coliseum - Tech to continue its mini-surge and West Virginia to break out of its slump. The Mountaineers (10-8, 2-3 Big 12) face the Red Raiders (10-8, 2-3) in an 8 p.m. game that will be televised by the Big 12 Network (locally on WQCW).A year ago, Texas Tech was one of the few teams West Virginia could handle in the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished that season 13-19 overall and 6-12 in the league, sweeping three two-game series with Texas, TCU and Texas Tech - the only three teams in the Big 12 other than WVU that finished with losing records.
Nearly a third of the way through their second season of Big 12 play, the Mountaineers still haven't beaten any of the upper-crust teams in the conference, and now those other also-rans are beginning to improve. WVU already lost a home game to Texas and now faces a surging Texas Tech group.So what's the difference with the Red Raiders?"I think they rebound the ball a lot better and they're changing defenses effectively,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "And Tubby's got them moving the ball and playing well together.''
The Red Raiders actually played pretty well two weeks ago against West Virginia in Lubbock. They shot 65 percent in the second half and held a 35-26 rebounding edge, but Terry Henderson tied the game with a late 3-pointer to send it to overtime and the Mountaineers survived there by building a bit of a lead and then withstanding a final shot to win 89-86.At the time, things looked promising for West Virginia, which had beaten TCU two days earlier and so had started league play 2-0 on the road.But that was followed by a bitter loss to a nationally ranked Oklahoma State team on a 3-pointer late in the game, then lopsided losses to Texas at home and Kansas State on the road."We played very well in the loss to Oklahoma State and had a chance to win the game,'' Huggins said. "Then Texas came in and played extremely well and we didn't shoot the ball very well. With our team we have to shoot it from the perimeter. And Kansas State just took it to us."We've struggled to shoot the ball here in the last couple of weeks. And when we don't make perimeter shots it's hard on us.''
Well, if West Virginia is going to snap out of its slump anytime soon, tonight's game is certainly the best opportunity, even if Texas Tech is on a roll.That's because after that there's a two-game road trip to No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 24 Baylor, home games against No. 22 Kansas State and No. 25 Oklahoma, then games at No. 8 Kansas and at home against No. 16 Iowa State.Of West Virginia's remaining 12 conference games after tonight, 10 are against teams currently in the Top 25 and one of the other two, Texas, is receiving votes in the polls.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.