KANSAS CITY, Mo.–On Thursday, No. 3-seeded West Virginia will square off against Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship. It will be the third time the two teams have met this season and beating the Bears three times won’t be an easy feat for the Mountaineers.
After ending the regular season with an 87-79 overtime loss to Texas, WVU must find a way to bounce back in order to keep their quest for the Big 12 title alive.
The Mountaineers lacked intensity against the Longhorns on Saturday and looked flat the entire game and they must correct that if they hope to beat Baylor.
“Just play with energy, we felt after we watched the film on the Texas game that we didn’t play with a lot of energy like we normally do and it showed out there in the film,” sophomore guard Beetle Bolden said. “That’s what we’ve been telling ourselves, come together as one and play with a lot of energy from the bench players on to the starting five.”
WVU players feel they have brought energy all week on the court.
“We’ve been very energetic,” senior guard Jevon Carter said. “Everybody is charged up.”
When the Mountaineers play with intensity, their pressure is on point and wreaks havoc on opponents. In the first meeting between the two teams, WVU forced 21 turnovers. Then in Waco last month, the Bears turned it over 13 times.
Manu Lecomte poses a huge threat for the Mountaineers. The senior averages 15.7 points per game and is an all-around talented athlete.
“He’s just a crafty player,” Bolden said. “He can hit the three, he can hit the pull up and he can finish in the lane. We just got to do a better job of controlling him. The first two games, I think we did a good job on him and made him take tough shots. Overall, he’s a good player.”
Through the first two games of the season, WVU did a good job at limiting Lecomte. In the first meeting, he was held to 13 points on 3-of-11 shooting. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound guard scored 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting during the meeting in February.
Lecomte isn’t the only threat that Baylor possesses. Terry Maston has been an immense threat off the bench. He has out-scored opposing benches 158-125 since Jan. 22.
However, the Mountaineers held the senior forward to just five points on 2-of-10 shooting during the regular season.
But the biggest threat the Bears bring is their size and length.
“They are pretty big,” Carter said. “We got to keep them off the glass. We just do what we do and try and speed them up and get turnovers, get out of transition.”
Baylor is one of the top rebounding teams in the nation. They average 10.6 boards per contest, which is 28th in the nation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, WVU struggles grabbing defensive rebounds.
They’re very well coached so I think you have to start with they’ll be really prepared in the third game,” Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins said. “They do a really good job with the 1-1-3 zone and they really rebound. I think they’re the best rebounding team in the league.”
That could be the difference maker in a game where everything is on the line.
It’s the Bears defense that has a way of changing the game.
“I can’t control what they change,” Huggins said. “We just have to be as prepared as we can be. We know they are going to play a 1-1-3, they’ll play some man and some three-quarter court press but I think the biggest thing is that they are terrific offensive rebounders.”
Baylor ranks second in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense (41.5 percent), fifth in 3-point defense (33.4 percent) and third in rebounding defense (32 boards per game).
The Bears grab an average of 26.5 rebounds (second in the conference).
“They’re really long,” senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. said. “I think they play good team defense so you got to find the gaps and get the ball inside whenever you can.”
If WVU can do that and come mentally prepared, the Mountaineers could be in good shape to complete the season sweep.
“We’ve just got to come ready to play and listen to the coach,” Miles said.
Tipoff is slated for 30 minutes after the matchup between No. 2 Texas Tech and No. 7 Texas
Cover Photo Credit: Ashley O’Brien