The Dominion Post  

WVU hoops on a high after surviving several lows

Created on:   Tue, Feb 27, 2018   8:54 PM

Last modified:   Tue, Feb 27, 2018   8:54 PM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — An early outpouring of scoring and defense was discussed before the 20th-ranked WVU men’s basketball team even took the floor in the 84-74 victory against No. 12 Texas Tech on Feb. 26.

What transpired as an opening 16-0 run on the Red Raiders wasn’t surprising in the least.

“It goes to show how locked in to defense and how we moved the ball as a team,” WVU guard James “Beetle” Bolden said. “That’s what we told ourselves before the game, was to bring a lot of energy to this game.”

The Mountaineers (22-8, 11-6 Big 12) are now one road game victory — against Texas, on Saturday — from claiming their third straight No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament.

WVU would also earn the No. 2 seed if Texas Tech loses to TCU, on Saturday.

“It’s important to show that we are still ‘Press’ Virginia and that we still are a contender for the national championship,” Bolden said. “It’s important to get a (first-round) bye in the Big 12 tournament. It shows that we are a team to be reckoned with. It helps with our spot in the NCAA tournament, because [the selection committee] look to see who is hot, and we want to be one of those teams.”

Following two months of inconsistent play, tough losses, a battle against the flu and getting junior forward Esa Ahmad up to speed after he missed the first 16 games, the Mountaineers may just be turning it on at the right moment.

They extended their lead against Texas Tech to 20. In last week’s 71-60 victory against Baylor, WVU led by 28.

“I think we have some things going,” WVU guard Daxter Miles Jr. said. “We’ve got to keep going on that momentum and practice hard.”

Ahmad has three double-doubles in his career, two in his last two games.

Sagaba Konate continues to work his way into being a defensive standout with offensive potential. He had three blocks against Texas Tech to give him 100 for the season.

And Jevon Carter and Miles continue to be a strong senior presence. They combined for 39 points and six 3-pointers against Texas Tech.

Oddly enough, all of this is where the Mountaineers seemed to be headed at the start of 2018, when then-No. 2 WVU rolled into Lubbock, Texas, to face the Red Raiders.

WVU was on a 15-game winning streak and Ahmad had just returned from an NCAA-level suspension.

Instead, the Mountaineers went from being a contender for No. 1 in the nation to a team that dropped two straight games (Texas Tech and Kansas) after having a double-digit lead in the second half.

That was later followed by a three-game losing streak that saw another big second-half meltdown, against Kentucky, before Iowa State put up 93 points — the most ever allowed in regulation by a WVU team coached by bob Huggins — in another loss.

“We’d rather lose early than late,” Bolden said. “We learned from those losses and we came together as a whole. It shows what positive energy can do for this team.”

Somewhere in all of that, you might have wondered: Were the real Mountaineers the team that was ranked No. 2 in the country, the team that had continual second-half letdowns, or something in between?

Huggins maybe broke it down the best:

“Tell me who hasn’t been up and down? That’s the nature of our game. That’s the nature of our league,” he said. “You can’t name me a team who hasn’t gone through ups and downs, from the No. 1-ranked team in the country to the worst team in the country.

“Everybody has highs and lows. When you go through a lot of the things we had to go through this year with injuries, the flu, and, with us, it’s travel, there are so many factors. You’re not going to have a perfect year. Somebody is going to come out and play really well on a night you don’t play well, even if you’re the best team in the country.”