KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Welcome to Day 2 of the Big 12 tournament at the Sprint Center, where West Virginia held on for a thrilling 72-71 victory against Oklahoma and then things really got interesting for the team following the game:
What we can tell you is that rumors about Konate’s return were swirling ever since he took part in the Mountaineers’ shootaround on Tuesday, but final confirmation didn’t come until about 1:45 a.m (Eastern Time) Thursday morning. There is a lot to digest here and we will get to that in a moment.
For now, we take a look at the quarterfinals game against Texas Tech, which swept the Mountaineers during the regular season, including an 81-50 beating in Lubbock, Texas earlier this season. The meeting in Morgantown saw the Red Raiders (26-5) hold on for a 62-59 win, in which the Mountaineers (13-19) missed 14 free throws.
“We owe Texas Tech,” WVU forward Lamont West said.
“Texas Tech is a good team,” added WVU guard Jordan McCabe. “We obviously know from the regular season what they did to us at home where we thought we had a chance to win the game. We went to their place and it kind of got out of control.”
With so much to discuss, here’s what you need to know:
TV: ESPN2 for the 7 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: Texas Tech is a 12.5 point favorite.
THREE GOOD QUESTIONS
What are the chances Sagaba Konate plays and what does this situation mean? The 6-foot-8 forward is officially a game-time decision. Could that be a ploy by WVU coaches to give Texas Tech coach Chris Beard a little more to think about? Sure, but this wouldn’t have been done if Konate had not been medically cleared and cleared to play by his family. Chances are, Konate will dress for the first time since Dec. 8 and go through warm-ups. He’s had to have practiced a little bit more than just a shootaround. As for the bigger picture, it’s a sign toward Konate returning to the team next season, or at least he is giving it serious consideration. He has remained engaged with coaches and teammates and student managers throughout the season. He has traveled with the team for road games and supported his teammates. You don’t do all of that stuff if you’re simply going to leave 10 minutes after the season is over. Opinions have varied over Konate’s situation all season and Bob Huggins has put his two cents in saying many times how Konate’s return would not be up to WVU, but rather a a decision by Konate’s family. Huggins’ other thought on the situation is he simply wanted Konate to be able to make a well-informed decision on whether to return, and not one simply made from family advice. Maybe we’ll get a chance to speak with Konate today. He declined interview requests Wednesday after the Oklahoma game.
What’s the outlook against Texas Tech? Besides the play of Logan Routt and Andrew Gordon, who filled in admirably against Oklahoma once Derek Culver got in foul trouble, the most promising aspect to the victory against the Sooners was West Virginia’s defense in the second half. Oklahoma shot 55 percent in the first half, but was held to just 35.5 percent in the second half.
“We gave them 26 points in the paint in the first half and that’s all we discussed at halftime,” Routt said. “Coach Huggins was not very happy about that.”
The Red Raiders have the best defense in the Big 12. The numbers back that up. If West Virginia can counter with a similar defensive performance like it did in the second half against the Sooners and keep Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver in check, then you likely have another game that goes down to the wire. If not, Texas Tech will move to the tournament’s semifinals.
What else do we look for today in the Big 12 tourney? Hard to follow an opening act of two games on Wednesday that both came down to the final seconds. TCU will try to strengthen its bid for an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament with a win against top-seed Kansas State, which will be playing without senior forward Dean Wade. Kansas is not one of the top two seeds of the tournament for the first time in 15 years and plays Texas in the late game, so it will be interesting to see how fired up the Jayhawks are after not winning the conference title. Iowa State and Baylor tip-off at 12:30 in a game that both teams need to truly guarantee a spot in the NCAA tournament.
FOLLOW on Twitter @bigjax3211