Oklahoma St.-West Virginia Preview
After declaring its legitimacy with a pair of impressive road wins to open Big 12 play, West Virginia is in line for a matchup with the nation's top team next week.
Before turning their attention toward Kansas, the 17th-ranked Mountaineers will try to keep their perfect home record intact Saturday against Oklahoma State.
West Virginia (13-1, 2-0) rolled through the non-conference portion of its schedule with seven straight wins before losing to No. 10 Virginia on Dec. 8. That proved only a momentary blip for the Mountaineers, who bounced back with four more victories by an average of 27.5 points against inferior competition.
Beginning conference play with road contests against Kansas State and TCU figured to be a far more difficult challenge.
While nothing came easy for West Virginia, it emerged with a pair of wins and now returns home to face Oklahoma State (9-5, 1-1) before No. 1 Kansas visits Tuesday.
Coming off an 87-83 double-overtime victory over Kansas State two days earlier, West Virginia looked like a team that had been on the road for six days in Monday's 95-87 win at TCU. The Mountaineers set season highs in fouls (33) and turnovers (22) and missed 13 free throws - eight coming in the second half.
With numbers such as those, it was no surprise they faced a seven-point deficit in the second half. However, Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip came up huge down the stretch and the Mountaineers used a 14-2 run to build an 11-point lead with 2:58 remaining.
"We were turning the ball over at an alarming rate," coach Bob Huggins said. "I figured our best chance was to give it to the guys that you trust the most with it, and tell them don't pass it unless you have to."
Paige scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half, with nine coming inside the 6-minute mark. Phillip had 14 of his 18 in the final 20 minutes, including a 3-pointer that triggered the key run.
"Tarik was terrific, Tarik is so competitive. I thought he as much as anybody willed us to win," Huggins said. "Then Jaysean comes in and gets 20 in 15 minutes. ... We're pretty good when he stays in the game."
Paige has averaged 19.8 points in his last four after starting the season with 10.1 through 10 contests.
Phillip also has elevated his play lately, averaging 12.8 points on 61.3 percent shooting over his past six after scoring 4.5 on 27.5 from the field in his first eight.
Avoiding a third straight loss to West Virginia could be difficult for Oklahoma State, which is coming off a 79-62 defeat at Baylor on Tuesday. The Cowboys were outrebounded 44-18 - with Bears forward Rico Gathers grabbing 17 himself - and allowed Baylor to score 44 points in the paint.
"I'm very disappointed to say the least," coach Travis Ford said. "It's one thing to get outrebounded, but it's another thing to have these numbers."
Ford's team relies heavily on its defense, allowing 63.5 points per game for the second-best total in the conference. That's been a necessity because the Cowboys score a league-low 70.8 per contest and are ninth with a 38.7 field-goal percentage.
West Virginia, meanwhile, ranks seventh in the country with 86.6 points per game and has averaged 96.3 during its 6-0 home start.
The Cowboys lost both meetings last season after winning the first four times the teams met since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012.