Streaking WVU ready for huge test against No. 17 Kansas
Defections, dismissals and injuries caused West Virginia to struggle for much of the basketball season.
So much so, the Mountaineers uncharacteristically finished last in the Big 12 regular season. Now as the No. 10 seed in the Big 12 tournament, they are finding their groove.
Upset wins over Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas Tech boosted West Virginia (14-19) into a semifinal matchup Friday against No. 17 Kansas (24-8), the No. 3 seed, at Kansas City, Mo.
"We have had ups and downs and we know how it feels to be down," acknowledged freshman forward Derek Culver, who snagged 13 rebounds to fuel a 44-30 advantage on the glass in the 79-74 win over Texas Tech on Thursday.
"When it's time to dig in and we're in the trenches, you've got to go out with your brothers and take the game over with no mishaps. If you take care of those, everything else will fall into place."
Seems like a decent formula, especially with the Mountaineers just one win away from their fourth consecutive appearance in the Big 12 tournament final.
"We had so many injuries and we basically lost four starters and these guys have been great," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins after the game. "They believe in what we're doing. They're incredibly coachable. They believe we can win. It seems like every game somebody different steps up."
Emmitt Matthews, a freshman forward who played sparingly until the closing stretch of the regular season, registered a career-high 28 points on 10-for-14 shooting in the upset over Texas Tech.
West Virginia, which finished 4-14 in league play, built a 17-point lead in the first half, fell behind by a point with 1:58 left, then rallied with perfect free-throw shooting down the stretch to avenge a 31-point loss at Texas Tech in the previous meeting.
"We're playing to get into the (NCAA) Tournament," Huggins said of the automatic bid that goes to the Big 12 tournament champ.
Culver averaged a double-double in Big 12 play after the Mountaineers lost forward Sagaba Konate to a knee injury after eight games and later dismissed forward Esa Ahmad.
Kansas, the defending Big 12 tournament champion and an 11-time winner of the event, ousted Texas 65-57 in the quarterfinals.
Two freshmen, point guard Devon Dotson and center David McCormack, were instrumental. Dotson led the Jayhawks with 17 points and also had four assists against no turnovers, while McCormack posted 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
The Jayhawks are dealing with the rare label of tournament underdog after their string of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles was snapped as Kansas State and Texas Tech shared the regular-season crown.
Junior forward Dedric Lawson, who scored 16 points against Texas, leads the conference in scoring and rebounding, and has 20 double-doubles.
Add Kansas coach Bill Self to those impressed with West Virginia's postseason push after the Jayhawks split with the Mountaineers during the regular season.
"The team I watched play (against Texas Tech)," said Self, "is hungry, they're playing with a free mind, the basket looks big to them, and certainly they're rebounding like Huggs' teams have historically done at West Virginia. So, forget about the records or what-not."
--Field Level MediaHome