West Virginia's deep bench led by top scorer Jaysean Paige
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Jaysean Paige has emerged from West Virginia's deep bench to put together a memorable Big 12 season as No. 14 West Virginia looks for another impressive run in the NCAA Tournament.
No one has ever led West Virginia in scoring when they've played a majority of games as a reserve.
Paige could be the first.
The senior from Jamestown, New York, is the Mountaineers' leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. He's started only one game this season, and that came when another player was injured.
Being that spark off the bench is a role Paige relishes. He has said it's an advantage to enter a game when opposing players might already be tired.
But he doesn't get caught up in numbers and personal feats. Not when West Virginia is looking for its best regular-season finish in six years. And especially not under the watchful eye of Bob Huggins.
Huggins uses an 11-player rotation, eight of whom are averaging at least 18 minutes per game.
''Our strength is in our numbers,'' Paige said. ''The way we play, we need guys to come in and give us solid minutes and guys that come and give some guys breathers.
''It's just constant attacking. When everybody's healthy, it's a big boost for us.''
Having a deep bench allows Huggins to send in his reserves in waves and has helped West Virginia rank second nationally in offensive rebounds (16.25 per game). But it helps on the defensive end, too. ''Press Virginia'' is second in forced turnovers per game (18.14) and third in steals (9.9).
West Virginia has been the surprise of the Big 12 this season after losing its top two guards to graduation from a year ago. Picked to finish in the middle of the pack, the Mountaineers were in first place for one stretch. With three regular-season games left, West Virginia is tied for second with No. 3 Oklahoma, two games behind Kansas.
Behind Paige, starter Devin Williams is the next highest scorer at 13.3 points per game, although Williams is valued perhaps more for his 8.9 rebounds per contest. Four other Mountaineers are averaging at least nine points per game.
''They're all going to play,'' Huggins said. ''It's a matter of getting as many minutes as you deserve and capitalizing on those minutes. You want to play more? Play better.''
And Paige has. He scored a career-high 34 points in a 97-87 win over Iowa State on Monday night, a school single-game record for a non-starter. In that game West Virginia's reserves amassed 69 points.
''Coach just told me to play my game, and other guys starting hitting shots,'' Paige said. ''They started to open the floor up a little bit, so it just gave me a lot more room to attack. I was just comfortable.''
Paige has increased his scoring average nearly nine points from a year ago and isn't the only player making improvements.
Teammate Tarik Phillip also came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points against the Cyclones and has increased his scoring average by more than five points. Phillip made 6 of 8 3-pointers against Iowa State - matching the number he made all of last season.
''He has put in just an incredible amount of work,'' Huggins said.
Jonathan Holton, who lost his starting job following a four-game suspension, is averaging 10 points and nine rebounds in four games off the bench since returning, while ex-bench player Nathan Adrian has averaged eight points in nine straight starts. The Mountaineers also have gotten valuable minutes off the bench from freshman guard Teyvon Myers and forward Elijah Macon.
West Virginia (21-7, 10-5 Big 12) plays at Oklahoma State (12-16, 3-12) on Saturday.