The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 26, 2014

Mountaineers travel to No. 15 Iowa St. tonight

WVU drilled Cyclones on Feb. 10

It’s only been 16 days since West Virginia’s basketball team dismantled then-No. 22 Iowa State 102-77 in Morgantown, but a lot has changed since that Feb. 10 meeting.

That victory over the Cyclones, the Mountaineers’ second in six days over a ranked opponent — a 91-86 overtime win over Oklahoma the other — put WVU at 15-10 overall, 7-5 in the Big 12 and firmly on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Since that time, however, the Mountaineers have lost a pair — 88-71 at No. 19 Texas and 88-75 at home against Baylor — to fall to .500 in league play and just three games over .500 overall.

Suddenly, the tournament hopes for WVU (15-12, 7-7) don’t look so bright.

The No. 15 Cyclones (21-5, 9-5), on the other hand, shook off that loss faster than a dog shakes off a swim in the river. ISU has won three straight since falling to the Mountaineers, a win over No. 19 Texas included, and the only tournament question for the Cyclones is how high they’ll be seeded.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t motivation for both teams when they meet tonight inside James H. Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, for an 8 p.m. clash.

Although the back-to-back losses have made the chances of WVU head coach Bob Huggins missing the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career much more realistic, the veteran coach is confident his team still has a chance — mostly because of the strong schedule ahead.

Aside from tonight’s game against the Cyclones, who boast a 12 RPI rating, the Mountaineers have Oklahoma (24 RPI) and Kansas (1 RPI) left on the schedule, as well as a meeting with Big 12 bottom feeder TCU.

“The good and the bad about this league is that you have an opportunity every game,” said Huggins. “We’ve got Iowa State with a great RPI, then TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas. We’ve got plenty of opportunities for signature wins.”

The Cyclones, certainly hungry for revenge, will provide a difficult test. They rank sixth nationally in scoring with 83.6 points per game, bad news for a Mountaineer team that gave up 88 in each of its last two contests. ISU shares the ball, leading the country with nearly 19 assists per game, and they go get it when it doesn’t go in, ranked 25th in the country with 38.7 rebounds per game.

Senior forward Melvin Ejim leads the team in scoring, averaging 18.9 points per game, although he was held to six in the first meeting with the Mountaineers thanks to a career night from WVU’s Remi Dibo, who defended Ejim and scored 20 points on the other end of the floor. Sophomore forward Georges Niang, though, had 17 in that game, right around his average of 16.5. Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane runs the team from the point guard spot, and he’s averaging 16.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and six assists per outing.

West Virginia, meanwhile is led by Eron Harris’ 18.1 points per game. The sophomore guard isn’t likely to be a fan favorite at ISU, though, after he was ejected in the first meeting for a flagrant foul in defense of Kevin Noreen, who was kicked in the stomach by the Cyclones’ Dustin Hogue during the same possession.

“I don’t really care about the (Iowa State) fans at all,” said Harris. “I think that we can beat them again if we play our game. It’s going to be hard, obviously, but we want to finish out the season strong.”

“We’ve got to win,” agreed junior point guard Juwan Staten, who’s averaging 18 points per game for the Mountaineers and had 19 in the first meeting with ISU. “We’ve got four regular season games left. We’re not out. We’re going to keep playing and fighting to the end.

“I still have confidence in this team. We know we can play with any team in the conference, and that’s how the conference has been this year. It’s been up and down.”

Tonight’s game will air locally on WOAY television.

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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