By Cam Huffman
It’s do or die time for the Mountaineers.
After breaking a three-game losing skid to get back to .500 in Big 12 play with an 87-81 win over Texas Tech Wednesday, the West Virginia University men’s basketball team will find out if it’s a contender or a pretender over the next few weeks as it faces 10 ranked teams in its next 12 games.
The run begins today at No. 11 Oklahoma State (15-3, 3-2 Big 12), which will be in action for the first time since losing at No. 15 Kansas on Jan. 18.
WVU (11-8, 3-3 Big 12) does have reason to believe after taking the Cowboys to the wire two weeks ago in Morgantown. The Mountaineers led by as many as 6 and had a 72-70 lead with 15 seconds to play before Markel Brown hit a 3-pointer that propelled his team to a 73-72 win.
The Cowboys, though have a roster filled with weapons, including Brown, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in that game, and Marcus Smart, one of the top players in all of college basketball.
Smart, who can play basically every position on the floor, averages 17.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and scored 22 with 13 boards against the Mountaineers. Le’Bryan Nash, who averages 13.3 points and 5.9 boards, also came up big in the first meeting, scoring 18 points.
“We’re going to try to fix some things,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “I thought we had some success with the zone, and we’re going to try and fix some things in the zone to try and stop some things that hurt us the last time we played.”
WVU, which could move into the upper half of the league with an upset victory today, is led by sophomore guard Eron Harris’ 17.4 points per game. Junior point guard Juwan Staten is averaging 17.2 points and 5.9 assists per game and is tops in the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio. Freshman forward Devin Williams is averaging a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game, and sophomore guard Terry Henderson is playing his best basketball of the season.
The sophomore guard has scored at least 16 points in four of WVU’s last five games, including 28 the last time out against the Red Raiders.
Today’s game will be WVU’s fourth this season against a ranked opponent. It lost to the first three — Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State — by 12 combined points.
Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. from OSU’s Gallagher-Iba Arena. The game will air on ESPN2.
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The 18th-ranked WVU women will also be in action today, taking on Texas in Austin, Texas, at 4 p.m.
The Mountaineers (17-2, 6-1 Big 12) have won three straight, and senior guard Christal Caldwell recorded her 1,000th career point in a 70-51 win at Texas Tech on Wednesday.
The Longhorns (12-6, 3-3 Big 12) are averaging 70 points per game, led by 13.2 points per outing from Nneka Enemkpali, who also averages 8.4 rebounds per game.
Senior center Asya Bussie leads WVU with 19 points and nine rebounds per game.
WVU defeated Texas 56-49 in overtime earlier this season in Morgantown.
Today’s game can be heard online at www.wvusports.com. It will air live on television on The Longhorn Network.
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