Texas Tech-West Virginia Preview
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins wanted to make one thing clear ahead of a matchup against a surprising Texas Tech team picked to finish last in the Big 12.
"I didn't pick 'em last, for the record," Huggins said.
His 10th-ranked Mountaineers already posted a hard-fought victory over Tubby Smith's Red Raiders heading into Wednesday night's rematch in Morgantown.
These teams have surpassed preseason expectations with West Virginia (22-7, 11-5) picked to finish sixth and Texas Tech (18-10, 8-8) in last. The Mountaineers are in second place in the season's final week while the Red Raiders are in seventh but in good position for an NCAA Tournament berth thanks to a strong RPI and strength of schedule.
At least West Virginia has a strong history under Huggins, who has reached the NCAAs in six of his first eight seasons there with one Final Four appearance. Texas Tech last played in the NCAA Tournament in 07, with Smith losing 37 games in his first two seasons there before this one.
"Anybody that knows Tubby, and Tubby and I go back a long way, knows that he was going to get it going," Huggins said. "What I think it was a matter of those guys that he recruited just to mature a little bit and understand what he wanted done."
The Red Raiders won five straight before shooting a season-low 31.6 percent in Saturday's 67-58 loss at then-No. 2 Kansas. That hasn't dented the confidence of Smith's club.
"They're very excited knowing that we're playing late, we're playing for something this time of the year," he said. "Last couple years we were not."
The Mountaineers have taken five straight over the Red Raiders, improving to 8-1 in the all-time series with an 80-76 victory Jan. 23. Texas Tech was up by four with under a minute left before allowing West Virginia's Tarik Phillip to score the game's final eight points.
Jaysean Paige scored 22 and Phillip added 20 as West Virginia shot 51.0 percent.
Paige is the Mountaineers' top scorer and leads all Big 12 reserves with 14.5 points per game.
"He's a kid that coming off the bench for such a long time just has a heart of a lion," Smith said. "He's an excellent shooter, he looks for his offense, he can go either way, he's athletic, he's just a hard to guard guy."
West Virginia has two players averaging at least 10 points with Devin Williams at 13.3. Texas Tech has four, with Toddrick Gotcher at 11.2 and Devaugntah Williams and Aaron Ross each at 10.6.
"Gotcher's had a great year for them, Ross is really a hard guard and they just continue to get better," Huggins said. "Williams gives them somebody who can get it at the rim and they're playing really, really well."
The Mountaineers have won back-to-back games by double digits, cruising past Oklahoma State 70-56 on Saturday behind Paige's 17 points.
Huggins wants to see West Virginia, which forces an average of 18.2 turnovers to lead all major conference teams, execute better as the postseason nears.
"We've gotta be more consistent," Huggins said. "Our execution still at times is not good and we've definitely got to do a better job in transition."