The Dominion Post  

WVU faces Baylor to open Big 12 tourney

Created on:   Wed, Mar 7, 2018   9:56 PM

Last modified:   Wed, Mar 7, 2018   9:56 PM


KANSAS CITY, Kan. — After back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Big 12 tournament, No. 18-ranked WVU wants to complete the mission this season.

“It’s winning time, so every possession is big,” all-conference guard Jevon Carter said March 7, inside the Sprint Center.

As the third-seeded Mountaineers (22-9) completed their shootaround, reports surfaced that Kansas center Udoka Azubuike would miss the tournament after suffering an MCL sprain. The 7-footer’s absence rendered an already wide-open field even more unpredictable.

“It changes things because he’s a force,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins, whose team couldn’t encounter Kansas until the final. “He’s a terrific rebounder and he’s a great rim protector. I would think the would hurt a lot of the stuff they do with ball-screens.”

The Mountaineers’ path begins in tonight’s quarterfinals, against sixth-seeded Baylor (18-13), whose NCAA hopes look precarious. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the Bears as one of the final teams in the NCAA bracket.

“It doesn’t matter what I think as far as if we’re in or out, but I do know we control our own destiny as long as we’re still playing,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We have an opportunity to play until we’re beaten.”

They were beaten during both home-and-home match-ups against WVU this season, losing 57-54, in Morgantown, and 71-60, in Waco.

For Round 3, Baylor needs more from forward Terry Maston. The Big 12’s sixth man of the year shot a combined 2-of-10 against WVU during the regular season and scored only five points.

“When he’s on, we know it’s give him the ball and get out of the way,” Drew said.

One of four seniors in Drew’s rotation, Maston averages 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds. He’s the only veteran to have spent his entire career at Baylor.

“It’s going to be my last Big 12 tournament,” Maston told the Waco Tribune, “so hopefully the fourth time is the charm. We’re going in with the mind set that we need to win every game we play, and the first game is always the toughest.”

No team is tougher to project than WVU, coming off a mercurial couple months in which it built, and frequently squandered, enormous leads. The uneven play continued during Saturday’s loss, to undermanned Texas.

“We felt like we didn’t play with a lot of energy, and it showed out there on the film,” guard James “Beetle” Bolden said.

Now, amid the postseason reboot, WVU goes in search of its first tournament title since 2010, in the Big East,

“Practices have been very energetic,” Carter said. “Everybody’s charged up, ready to win and advance.”