The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 13, 2013

It's now or never for Mountaineers

WVU faces Texas Tech tonight in Big 12 tourney in Kansas City

BECKLEY — West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has said all year that his team is capable of making a run.

If it’s going to happen, it has to start now.

WVU (13-18, 6-12 Big 12) opens play in the its first-ever Big 12 Conference tournament tonight at 7 p.m. The eighth-seeded Mountaineers take on No. 9-seed Texas Tech (10-19, 3-15 Big 12) in the opening game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Huggins’ belief in a winning streak isn’t exactly without merit. The Mountaineers showed they have some talent when they stormed back from 27 points down to pull within four, 76-72 on a Terry Henderson dunk with less than a minute to play.

WVU played with energy, made shots and was relentless on defense in trying to end senior day with a victory.

In the end, though, it was another loss, the Mountaineers’ sixth straight. WVU has not won a game since knocking off Texas Tech 66-64 in Morgantown on Feb. 16. So winning four games in as many days — what the Mountaineers would need to do in order to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 when John Beilein’s club won the NIT championship — seems like a daunting task.

“I think when you get down by 27 in the second half and come back to cut it to four, obviously you still think you can win,” said Huggins, refusing to throw in the towel, even after losing more games than he has in any other season of his 31-year career.

A run has to start with the first game, and WVU appears to be in good shape. Two of WVU’s six conference wins this year came against the Red Raiders, the other a 77-61 win in Lubbock, Tex.

WVU Senior forward Deniz Kilicli averaged 17 points and five rebounds in those two victories, while freshman guard Eron Harris averaged 16.5 points and two assists.

“We’ve played well at times,” said Huggins. “We just haven’t been as consistent as we need to be.

“We’ve just got to be able to put it together. I think if we can put it together, we’re not that far away from being able to beat some pretty good people.”

The Red Raiders, who have lost 11 of their last 12 games, are led by junior forward Jaye Crockett, the only double-figure scorer, averaging 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

The winner of tonight’s game will take on top-seeded Kansas Thursday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.

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

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