By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s basketball team was feeling better about itself when it boarded the airplane Tuesday bound for Waco, Texas, and a meeting with Baylor on Wednesday.
Once 9-10 and 2-4 in Big 12 play at their lowest point, the Mountaineers had won three in a row and were going for four straight for the first time all season against the Bears.
Head coach Bob Huggins was talking about a possible late run to somehow secure an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth, and there seemed to be a newfound confidence among the youthful Mountaineers.
An 80-60 thrashing at the hands of the Bears changed all that Wednesday. Old problems — turnovers, poor shooting, defensive breakdowns — all returned and perhaps served as a reminder that the three-game winning streak — which came against Texas Tech, Texas and TCU, teams that all have losing records and are a combined 30-40 — had more to do with the opponent than any sudden transformation.
Down just four at the half and trailing 38-34 early in the second half, WVU allowed the Bears (16-8, 7-4 Big 12) to go on an 8-0 run, aided by two Brady Heslip 3-pointers in a 30-second stretch, to put the game out of reach. Pierre Jackson also had a steal and a breakaway layup during the run.
“We threw the ball to them,” said Huggins, who admitted that he was surprised by the second-half breakdown, because he believed his team had moved past those woes that cost it early in the season.
“We had live ball turnovers that they scored on, and then we hung our heads and they beat us in transition,” he continued. “They’ve got good players, and good players make shots.
“You can’t leave Heslip open, or he’s going to make shots. Everybody in America knows that, except seven or eight of the guys I had guarding him — or not guarding him.”
West Virginia turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 23 Baylor points, and the Mountaineers shot just 43.5 percent from the field, after hovering around 50 percent in each of the last three wins.
Huggins said much of that was a result of having the wrong people take the shots. Juwan Staten was 1-for-5 from the field, while Jabarie Hinds was 4-for-10.
“You can’t say ‘pass the ball’ more than I do in practice everyday, but we don’t pass the ball,” the coach explained. “Our most consistent shooter has been Eron Harris (who finished with a team-best 19 points, including a 3-for-5 mark from 3-point range), and we come down 3-on-1 and throw it to a guy who hasn’t made a shot. Why do you do that? I don’t know.”
The loss was extremely costly in the Big 12 standings. Now 12-12 overall and 5-6 in conference play, West Virginia is seventh in the 10-team league, ahead of only the three teams it beat during the winning streak.
With five teams with four or fewer losses ahead of the Mountaineers, finishing in the top half of the league will be a difficult task with only seven games remaining.
WVU will return home to the WVU Coliseum on Saturday, where it will face Texas Tech at 4 p.m.
The Mountaineers will then embark on a difficult four-game stretch which includes a trip to No. 10 Kansas State, a home game against No. 17 Oklahoma State, a home contest against the same Baylor team that beat them by 20 points on Wednesday and then a trip to face No. 14 Kansas on CBS.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.