December 04, 2015

West Virginia is off to another solid start, but knows that success can be fleeting if it can't maintain a high level of effort.

Before facing a fellow Top 25 opponent next week, the No. 20 Mountaineers try to improve to 7-0 for the second straight season Saturday against visiting Kennesaw State.

Not many programs that open with five straight victories would feel the need to call a team meeting, but West Virginia did prior to last Friday's championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational. The purpose was to discuss just how much focus the Mountaineers really had and if they could elevate their collective performance to a higher level.

The result was a more spirited effort in the 72-50 win over San Diego State that helped move West Virginia into the Top 25 for the first time this season.

''We've always felt we were a special team, but it don't mean nothing if we don't put the work in,'' said guard Daxter Miles, who had a team-high 14 points and six steals. ''I believe we have some good guys and we can't do it without each other."

The team concept has always been a necessity for a Bob Huggins-coached program, and this season appears to be no different even if some prodding is needed.

Devin Williams' 17.5 points per game leads four players averaging in double figures and seven with at least 6.5. Averaging 88.7 points and allowing 58.2 per game, West Virginia's 30.5 margin of victory ranks among the highest in the nation.

The Mountaineers are shooting a miserable 27.7 percent from 3-point range but are holding opponents to 22.5 - much improved from last season's 36.5 defensive 3-point percentage. They're also second in the nation forcing 22.2 turnovers per contest.

''We just want to compete," Huggins said. ''I knew we could compete. We've got great guys who are extremely competitive. We played better as a team (against San Diego State) than we had in the prior five games.''

The Mountaineers might need to be even better Tuesday against 10th-ranked Virginia in New York City, but first they should be able to fine-tune some things in this first meeting with Kennesaw State (2-7).

Guided by former Rhode Island and Boston College coach Al Skinner, the Owls are averaging only 64.4 points and shooting 38.6 percent. They lost by 22 to then-No. 23 LSU on Nov. 16, and also fell to Arizona State by 38.

Kennesaw is at least coming off a victory, overcoming a 37.1-percent shooting performance to win 61-41 over Florida A&M on Wednesday to snap a three-game losing streak.

"Players continue to improve and we'll continue to make strides, and we're happy about that." Skinner said. "It's still going to take us a little while to get where we want to be, but we've definitely made some improvements and hopefully we continue to improve."

Owls 5-foot-9 senior Yonel Brown averages a team-leading 17.2 points and has scored at least 30 twice this season, but he's failed to produce more than 10 in two of the last three games. He also totaled 22 points on 8-of-31 shooting against LSU and Arizona State.

Teammate Kendrick Ray has averaged 17.7 points in the last three and totaled 22 boards in the last two.

The 6-9 Williams is shooting 60.3 percent from the field and averaging 11.0 rebounds.

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