By Mickey Furfari
For The Register-Herald
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team most certainly isn’t wasting its time during this off week between games.
The Mountaineers (15-11, 7-6 Big 12) are working just as hard as ever to become better before Saturday’s game against visiting Baylor (17-9, 5-8 Big 12). Tip-off time at the Coliseum is 1:30 p.m.
West Virginia will be seeking a sweep of this season’s two-game series.
Juwan Staten’s layup with just two seconds left gave the Mountaineers a 66-64 win Jan. 8 at Waco, Tex.
But Baylor leads the all-time rivalry by a 3-1 margin.
Highlighting Saturday’s contest will be a reunion of about 50 former WVU basketball players and staff personnel. They will be introduced on the floor during the halftime intermission.
This battle with Baylor has to be vital to the Mountaineers in more ways than one. They’re still hopeful of qualifying for this year’s NCAA Tournament. What’s more, a strong finish obviously would improve their final placement in the Big 12 standings.
After hosting Baylor, WVU visits Iowa State on Feb. 26, meets TCU on March 1 in Morgantown, plays at Oklahoma on March 5, then ends the regular season against Kansas on March 8 in Morgantown.
The annual Big 12 tournament is scheduled for March 12-15 for the conference championship at Kansas City, Mo.
Staten, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard from Dayton, Ohio, was quoted as saying there’s still too much at stake to give up. That was his response following last Saturday night’s 88-71 blowout by Texas in Austin, Tex.
“Nothing is going to change my opinion of this team,” Staten said. “I mean, we’ve been together from Day 1. We know what we’re capable of.
“But we’re still human. This is still the game of basketball, and sometimes the ball goes and sometimes it doesn’t (go into the basket).
“As humans, we all make mistakes….” But he stressed that nobody gets blamed for making a mistake and that nobody is hanging his head.
Meanwhile, Coach Bob Huggins observed earlier in the week that the Mountaineers needed to work most on their rebounding and defense.
In that connection, they have given up 70 points or more in 17 of their first 26 games this season. That’s the most in Huggins’ seven years at the WVU helm. In 10 of the 13 league games, opponents have shot 45 percent or better from the field.
You may recall that West Virginia limited Iowa State, which was the Big 12’s leading scoring offense, to 36.6 percent goaling accuracy. But then it allowed Texas to shoot a sizzling 57.9 percent from the field during that 17 point beating.