January 04, 2015

West Virginia's first Big 12 loss was excusable, expected maybe, even after it knocked off the top team in the country. Its second was less so and signaled a third in as many games as a possibility after starting league play 4-0.

Any chance of remaining in the top 10 for another week hinges on the sixth-ranked Mountaineers winning at Texas Tech on Saturday, but while they've been exposed as beatable, the Red Raiders are yet to show they can prosper against the league's top teams.

Bob Huggins' team might first have been considered a true contender for the conference title with a 74-63 home win over then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 12. Four days later, it shouldered a 70-68 defeat at then-No. 2 Oklahoma with its head held high before the Sooners took over the top ranking.

This week, however, started with a 56-49 home loss to Texas on Wednesday, which was easily the Mountaineers' worst offensive game with a 31.1 percent shooting mark.

"This is a league you cannot relax at all. It's just how the league is," said Devin Williams, who had a team-high 11 points with 11 rebounds. "I think it's just a learning experience and we'll be back. This is something that we needed and we just got a little too comfortable."

But things had already been trending that way. West Virginia (15-3, 4-2) shot 48.4 percent in its first 14 games but is at 36.8 in the last four.

Nevertheless, against Texas Tech (12-5, 2-4) Huggins outlined a potential storyline similar to many of the opponents the up-tempo Mountaineers face as they try to avoid their first three-game skid since February 2014.

"Nobody wants to run up and down with us. They want to get us in a half-court game and do everything they can possibly do to keep it in the half court," Huggins told the school's official website, though his team forced a season-low eight turnovers against Texas - 12.0 below its season average.

"If we shoot it as poorly as we did against Texas it's going to be a long, long night and a long plane ride back from Lubbock, but I don't think that is going to be the case."

It certainly hasn't been on a four-game winning streak in the series with West Virginia shooting 51.3 percent and 41.0 from 3-point range. The latest was the most lopsided, a 77-58 win in Morgantown on Jan. 31 behind 18 points from Williams on 7-of-9 shooting.

This Red Raiders team doesn't have any losses of that level this season, though a 76-69 win at TCU on Monday ended a four-game skid with top scorers Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher needed only for limited contributions. The duo totaled 10 points on 10 shots.

"Williams has become very, very consistent for them," Huggins said. "He's a hard guard because he really drives it at you and keeps putting pressure on the rim. Gotcher has shot it really well from the perimeter and their inside guys are very athletic; they're very long."

Not quite as long after center Norense Odiase broke his right foot against TCU. The team hasn't given a timetable for his return, but forwards Aaron Ross (16 points) and Justin Gray (14) showed promise off the bench, and a smaller lineup seems inevitable.

Texas Tech had shot 25.4 percent from 3-point range on the losing streak but hit 9 of 15 against the Horned Frogs, including a combined 5-of-6 effort from Ross and Gray.

"We've been struggling from the 3-point line, but I thought we were able to make some early shots tonight," coach Tubby Smith said. "The right guys were making shots. The reason we won the game tonight was because Justin and Aaron knocked down their open 3s. I thought we really pushed the ball up the court in transition, and that helped a lot as well."

Texas Tech has dropped its last 11 games against the Top 25 by an average of 15.0 points.

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