KANSAS CITY, Mo. — WVU senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. stood in the tunnels of the Sprint Center here on Wednesday and addressed the strength within this week’s Big 12 tournament.
“You have to play every possession like it’s your last if you want to survive here,” he said.
Miles was then asked about the Mountaineers’ turn on this version of “Survivor,” which begins at 9 p.m. Thursday against sixth-seeded Baylor. Third-seeded WVU (22-9) defeated the Bears (18-13) 57-54 on Jan. 9 and again 71-60 on Feb. 20.
Difficult to beat a team three times in one season?
“It’s hard to beat a team in this conference any amount of times,” Miles said. “And that’s the truth.”
The postseason journey, though, is set to begin for No. 18 West Virginia. The Mountaineers are certainly an NCAA tournament-bound team, but are looking to improve their seeding there. They’ve been projected anywhere from a bubble No. 4 seed to a No. 5 seed. And they lost in their last outing at Texas.
“We felt after we watched that film we didn’t play with a lot of energy like we normally do,” said WVU guard James “Beetle” Bolden. “It showed on film.”
He said, however, the new season, the new start is, well, energizing the Mountaineers.
“We talked as a whole, even with Coach [Bob Huggins],” Bolden said. “He reminded us it’s a new season. We gave a couple of those games away in the regular season. He preached to us it’s a new season and not to give away those games.”
Starting with Baylor.
“They’re really well-coached to start with,” Huggins said of the Bears. “In the third game, they’ll be really well-prepared. They do a great job with their 1-1-3 zone. And they really rebound it. I think they’re the best rebounding team in the league.”
Actually, Baylor is No. 2 in rebounding margin at plus-6.4 a game. But No. 1 TCU is at plus-6.5, so it’s very close. Huggins then got more specific when asked for one particular key.
“Offensive rebounds,” he said.
The Mountaineers are No. 1 in the Big 12 there, averaging 14.2. Baylor is No. 3 at 12.
“They have size, length,” WVU leading scorer Jevon Carter said of the Bears. “We’ve got to keep them off the glass. Then we have to do what we do: try to speed them up, get turnovers and get out in transition.”
West Virginia is forcing an average of 16.7 turnovers a game, while Baylor is committing an average of 13.2 miscues. The Mountaineers have forced 35 in their two games against the Bears.
“We are ‘Press Virginia,’ ” shrugged Bolden.
Those within the Mountaineer camp, however, agree there is a second key: effective passing against the Bears’ zone. Baylor tries to use its length to take away passing lanes. If WVU’s players are stagnant in their “passing attack,” the Bears’ chances at victory improve.
“You’ve got to get in gaps,” Huggins said. “They do a great job of getting in lanes. … We’ve got to attack it.”
Nuni Omot, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, had 30 points in Baylor’s last game, a 77-67 loss at Kansas State. Guard Manu Lecomte, 5-11, leads the team in scoring at 15.7 points a game. Seven-foot Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is second at 14.4 while averaging 8.8 rebounds.
Carter is leading WVU at 17 points per game, with Miles at 12.1, Sagaba Konate at 10.8, Esa Ahmad at 10.3 and Lamont West at 10.2. Bolden is near double figures at 9.5 and is hitting 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.
The Baylor-WVU game will be televised on ESPN2. The winner will play Friday against either Texas Tech or the winner of the Texas-Iowa State game.
On Wednesday, Huggins again took a moment to laud his senior guard Carter.“We’re blessed because we’ve got a guy we all know could score a lot more points,” said the coach. “But he just wants to win. J.C. just wants to win. He’s been incredible in the huddle. I think he’s the epitome of selfless.”
News leaked Wednesday that Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike hurt his knee and won’t play this week. Huggins was asked about the impact.“It changes things,” he said. “He’s a force. He’s a terrific rebounder and rim protector. I would think that would hurt a lot of the stuff they do with ball screens.”
If you were unaware, the Big 12 and its corporate sponsors have worked with the host city and the Kansas City Sports Commission over the last three years to identify and fulfill a project regarding local recreational facilities.This year’s gift is renovating existing surfaces to the city’s Oak Park basketball courts. A league was created there to provide an evening entertainment for local youths. “A lot of those kids who shoot basketball on the courts ... some shot pistols in the street before,” Pat Clark, president of that neighborhood’s association, told the Kansas City Star.