Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim scores on a reverse dunk against Texas.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Save for a handful of November laughers against clearly outclassed opponents, West Virginia's easiest win this season came just over two weeks ago. It was by 25 points, it resulted in WVU's first 100-point output in a conference game in more than eight years and it was never close.That it was against an Iowa State team that was ranked No. 11 at the time and still checks in at No. 15 in the Associated Press poll made it all the more shocking.But if that 102-77 win bordered on the absurd where the Mountaineers were concerned, imagine how it went over in Ames, Iowa."It was definitely a wake-up call," Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim said this week.
Indeed, if West Virginia can expect anything tonight in the rematch, it is an Iowa State team with its eyes wide open. The Mountaineers (15-12, 7-7 Big 12) face the Cyclones (21-5, 9-5) in an 8 p.m. (ET) game at Hilton Coliseum in Ames that will be televised by the Big 12 Network (locally on WQCW)."I think this group understands what happened the first go-around with West Virginia. They handed it to us,'' Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "It was a bad performance by our team, but they had a lot to do with it. They came out with a much greater sense of urgency than we did. They just took it to us.''Indeed, that might have been the best performance West Virginia has put together this season. Not only did the Mountaineers shoot nearly 54 percent, they had a season-high 13 3-pointers and missed just two of their 21 free throws.Perhaps more telling, though, was what WVU managed defensively. Iowa State shot 36.6 percent, made just four 3s (the Cyclones lead the Big 12 in 3-pointers) and held the league's leading scorer, Ejim, to one basket. That was just two days after Ejim had burned TCU for a Big 12-record 48 points.Since that time, though, Iowa State has won three straight. In fact, the Cyclones' only loss this month was to West Virginia."We've been better since that one,'' Hoiberg said. "There were so many things to learn from that game.''West Virginia, meanwhile, has been heading in the opposite direction. The win over Iowa State was WVU's fourth in five games and ignited hopes that a run for an NCAA tournament berth might be in the offing. Alas, those hopes have all but disappeared after lopsided losses to Texas and Baylor in which the same team that played so well defensively against ISU gave up 176 points."It doesn't matter how well we play on one end if we let [opponents] score every time they have the ball,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.Baylor, which pulled away from WVU late on Saturday, scored on 20 of its 25 second-half possessions.Those back-to-back losses have all but shattered any hopes West Virginia might have had of reaching the NCAA tournament. In fact, unless the Mountaineers can upset a team or two down the stretch, even a winning season might be in jeopardy.There is a game at home against last-place TCU on Saturday that WVU will certainly be favored to win, but the other three remaining in the regular season are Iowa State and Oklahoma on the road and No. 5 Kansas at home. Unless the Mountaineers can win one of those, they will go into the Big 12 tournament at just 16-15 and needing a win or even two to punch up an NIT resume.
On the other, hand, though, that closing schedule that begins with tonight's game at Iowa State is full of chances."The good thing about this league is that you have an opportunity every game,'' Huggins said. "We've got plenty of opportunities out there for signature wins.''BRIEFLY: West Virginia will play its second straight game without sophomore guard Terry Henderson. The team's leading scorer, who did not make the trip to Ames, missed Saturday's loss to Baylor because he was ill, and a school spokesman said Tuesday that Henderson is still not well enough to play. ... Eron Harris is likely to receive a rude welcome from Iowa State fans tonight. He was ejected from the first game after striking a blow to ISU's Monte Morris late in the game. "I can't worry about the fans,'' the West Virginia guard said. ... Iowa State is 13-1 at home this season and has won 32 straight at Hilton against unranked teams. One of those was a 69-67 victory over West Virginia last year in which WVU rallied from an 18-point deficit before losing on a layup by Georges Niang just before the buzzer.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.