WACO, Texas - In a bottom-line view, West Virginia did a fine job against Oklahoma State's Phil Forte on Saturday. The Big 12's leading 3-point shooter had made half of his 106 attempts coming in and walked out having made just one in the 81-75 win.But there's a bigger picture for the Mountaineers and their defense entering today's ESPN2-televised 7 p.m. game against Baylor.They allowed Forte nine attempts and Forte, a career 40 percent shooter from beyond the line, had a bad day. Only once in his career had he done worse than the 1-for-9 against WVU and that 1-for-10 day against Delaware State Dec. 17 was forgotten long before he made 7 of 10 against Kansas Jan. 18.The Mountaineers will have another perimeter challenge, but another chance to improve their focus when they play the Bears at the Ferrell Center. Baylor's Brady Heslip is second to Forte in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting at 46.4 percent (52-for-112).
Like Forte, Heslip made six 3s in a win against the Mountaineers last season, so WVU knows it has to pay close attention to the junior from Canada."I don't need much space to get it off," Heslip said. "I feel like I have a pretty quick release and I'm confident in my shot. So, no, I don't need much space."For much of his career, Heslip has had space because of teammates who have commanded the attention of the defense. This season is no different. He's one of four Baylor players scoring at least 10 points per game and part of a balanced attack.Point guard Kenny Cherry averages 11.1 points per game, but does his damage off the bounce and has only made 16 3-pointers. Cory Jefferson leads the team with 12.2 points per game and has made 52 percent of his shots, most of them right around the basket. Sophomore Isaiah Austin, a 7-footer, was a more prolific 3-point shooter last season, but is just 7-for-20 this season. He averages 10.5 points and doesn't stray far from the paint.Heslip has made just 10 two-point shots and has only attempted 25 on the way to 10.7 points per game."It's a lot of fun," Heslip said. "I love playing basketball and obviously specifically for my position I love to be out there and be trusted to take and to make big 3s. I'm not going to go dunk on somebody. That's not my game. But knocking down 3s is my alley-oop, my highlight reel play. It's what I've done my whole life."The Mountaineers have the worst field-goal percentage defense (43.3) in the Big 12 and are tied with TCU and Texas Tech for the worst 3-point percentage defense (34.4). They've allowed six opponents to make at least four 3s and 50 percent of his attempts in a game this season.Promising for WVU, though, is that Forte's 1-for-9 came in the game after Texas Tech's Dusty Hannahs was 7-for-7 to match a Coliseum record and set an opponent record.Forte's only made 3 came after he missed and point guard Marcus Smart grabbed the long rebound and found Forte open after WVU's defense had collapsed to chase the missed shot. He had been 0-for-5 up to that point.Heslip is similarly committed and subscribes to the idea that sometimes a good idea is a bad idea. Much of the success Hannahs had against the Mountaineers came on shots that defenders didn't think he'd take, let alone make, too."To be honest, if it's me and I catch the ball and I'm open, I'm shooting it 99 percent of the time," Heslip said. "At the same time, I'd like to think that I have a high basketball IQ. I know the time and the score. If there's less than a minute to go and I'm open, I'm going to dribble it out to ensure we win and we don't give the other team a chance. But other than that, 99.9 percent of the time, I'm letting the thing go. I think every time I shoot it that it's going in. That's my thought process."
Heslip and his teammates have struggled in a four-game losing streak, the school's longest since dropping six straight five years ago. Heslip was shooting 48.4 percent from 3-point range before the Bears hit their rut, where he's missed 15 of his last 23.The Mountaineers are no less familiar with how their fate can be fastened to the 3-point shot. Terry Henderson softened the repeated blows of Hannahs by making 5 of 6 in WVU's win, but was 0-for-5 Saturday. Eron Harris was 6-for-7 to keep the Mountaineers in the game against Oklahoma State all the way until freshman Nathan Adrian missed a 3 with 44 seconds to go that would have tied the score 75-75."If we're going to win games like this," coach Bob Huggins said, "those are going to have to go down."Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org
or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com.