The sixth-ranked West Virginia University Mountaineers (17-6, 10-4) welcome in the No. 3 Baylor University Bears (18-1, 10-1) Tuesday evening at 5:00 and broadcasting on ESPN.
The Bears suffered their first loss of the season in a 71-58 loss to the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday. It was only the second game back from a three-week postponement due to COVID-19 and then the ice storm that devasted the State of Texas.
In their first game back, Baylor trailed by as many as 17 in the first half against Iowa State, a team that has yet to register a conference win. The Bears cut it to five at the break and took their first lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game and held on for a 77-72 win.
It’s clear the Bears are not back to the same team that rolled through the first half of the Big 12 Conference schedule but coming into game three against the Mountaineers, the assumption is, Baylor will be near full strength if they are not already there.
“They’re terrific, offensively. They play really hard. I think defensively, their bigs have really helped him,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “They’re veteran - they don’t get rattled - they play at a great pace and they’re terrific at playing in space.”
Huggins was very complimentary of Baylor guard Mark Vital, a 6’5” 250-lb guard that doesn’t necessarily fill up the stat sheet but does all the dirty work and sees similarities between Vital and Mountaineer forward Gabe Osabuohien.
“Vital’s been solid for them. What is this now? I think it's his eighth year,” Huggins joked. Then later adding, “He’s got a great understanding play. I think he’s a very good passer. He’s a very, very good passer. He keeps balls alive - he’s not selfish - he’ll keep balls alive and get it back to the guys who can make shots.”
Junior guard Jared Butler (6’3”, 193-lbs) leads the team in scoring at 16.4 points per game on an impressive 48.3% shooting from the field, including a conference-leading 43.4%* from three-point range. Additionally, he ranks thirds in assists at 4.9 per game and leads the Big 12 in steal per game at 2.3 (44).
“It’s amazing when you can put four guys on the floor, like they do at times, that you put four guys on the floor that unselfish. They kind of look out for each other and he’s the captain of that. When your best player has those attributes, it tends to trickle down to the rest of the team,” said Huggins.
Baylor averages 10.3 threes made per game, leading the Big 12 and in three-point percentage at 42.1%. The Bears have four players that have hoisted 80 or more threes on the season and three of the four are shooting over 40%. Along with Butler, Davion Mitchell (6’2”, 205-lbs) leads the Bears at 46.6% and Adam Flagler (6’3”, 180-lbs) is hitting 42.5%.
“It’s a great weapon and they’re going to bring a four-man in who shoots it as well as the guards do. We got to guard them - I think we’re well aware of that,” said Huggins. “We got to pick them up a little earlier and we got to do a really good job on ball screens. They’re great at playing in space. They do a great job of spacing the floor and they’re really effective in space.”
West Virginia is 8-11 all-time versus Baylor but won the last meeting in the final game of the 2019-20 season, 76-64.
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