No. 6 West Virginia seeks intensity vs. Texas
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Two weeks after West Virginia climbed to No. 2 in the AP poll, coach Bob Huggins hasn't liked the aftermath.
Now ranked No. 6, the Mountaineers (15-3, 4-2) have lost their edge, not to mention two late-game leads, and must regain intensity if they hope to contend for the Big 12 title, Huggins said.
"We probably weren't comfortable being No. 2 in the country," he said. "Our preparation wasn't what it needed to be."
After losses to Texas Tech and Kansas, Saturday's home showdown against Texas (12-6, 3-3) affords a chance to stop the slide. A matchup of elite defensive teams features two of the nation's top shot-blockers: West Virginia sophomore Sagaba Konate and Longhorns' one-and-done prospect Mohamed Bamba.
At 6-foot-8, Konate used bounce and strength to swat five shots in the opening 12 minutes against Kansas. The lanky Bamba protects the rim with a 7-foot-9 wingspan that would rank as the longest in the NBA right now. He is second in the nation at 4.53 blocks per game. Konate is eighth at 3.06.
Bamba is also the only Big 12 player averaging a double-double at 11.9 points and 10.5 rebounds. He has four double-doubles in six conference games.
Bamba had 15 and 11 Wednesday night during a 67-58 upset of No. 8 Texas Tech, a game in which the return of guard Kerwin Roach from a broken hand provided a surprising boost. Cleared to play just a minute before tipoff, Roach scored 20 points after not having practiced for a week.
Roach had missed two games.
"It was huge what Roach was able to do for our team, because you have an extra level of athleticism and burst as a team when he's in there," Smart said.
Despite losing guard Andrew Jones to leukemia treatment, the Longhorns are in the mid-40s in the RPI, one of the tools the NCAA selection committee uses to pick at-large teams into the NCAA Tournament. Texas likely needs no better than a .500 finish in the rough-and-tumble Big 12 to qualify for the tournament. But the Longhorns were 0-3 against West Virginia last season.
Mountaineers point guard Jevon Carter made 22 of 39 shots during those three wins, averaging more than 20 points. He's the team scoring leader again this season (16.7 points), although the offense relied on him too much recently.
"I feel like we took rushed shots," Carter said after West Virginia fell to Kansas 71-66 on Monday, a loss in which the Jayhawks overcomes a 12-point deficit over the final nine minutes. "We haven't been running offense as clearly as we need to be."
Carter hoisted a combined 37 shots against the Jayhawks and Texas Tech -- the most of any two-game sequence in his career.
"JC had the ball too much because no one else would get open," Huggins said.
The reinstatement of junior forward Esa Ahmad (16.5 points, 5.2 rebounds), which portended to make West Virginia even tougher after 15 consecutive wins, has coincided with back-to-back losses.
"We've got to bounce back," Konate said.
Updated January 19, 2018