WVU basketball: Mountaineers' postseason hopes take another hit
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In every game that briefly offers hope and ultimately delivers disappointment, West Virginia seems at least capable of providing a fresh reason to illustrate the season's frustrations.
Postseason chances for the Mountaineers took a legitimate blow Wednesday night when the game ended on a blocked 3-point shot in the final second taken by a player who hasn't made a 3 in more than two years.
Point guard Juwan Staten's stirringly patient dribbling as time ticked away and then his easily defended jump shot out of desperation clinched Baylor's comeback from down seven points in the second half to win 65-62 before a crowd of 6,588 inside the Coliseum.
"You've got to score," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "Taking a shot you can't make isn't helping any."
The Bears, who trailed by nine points in the first half and by seven after 2:30 of the second half, matched their largest lead at 61-55 with 3:56 to go. Forward Kevin Noreen dragged WVU back into the game with two free throws after Eron Harris had made a pair and then the 6-foot-10 Noreen calmly backed behind the perimeter to hit a 3 and cut the deficit to 63-62.
After Baylor's Pierre Jackson missed a layup and Harris missed for WVU, but Noreen grabbed the offensive rebound with 44 seconds to play.
Out of a timeout, Harris found himself open on the right side behind the 3-point line thanks to a solid screen from teammate Deniz Kilcli. Harris missed short.
"I was supposed to go backdoor, but they played the backdoor, so I backed off," Harris said.
"Initially I felt open, but I thought I was too deep so I stepped in. But I can shoot it deep. I probably should have just shot it. It's a key shot I didn't make."
Jackson was fouled after digging out the rebound and he made two free throws with 18 seconds to go.
Staten dribbled slowly across halfcourt before waiting some more for a play to develop. Staten and Noreen said the plan was to have Noreen set a screen and for Staten to either drive for a quick layup or pass it back to Noreen for a 3-pointer.
WVU was out of timeouts and couldn't reset with time expiring.
"We got caught in a hole," Noreen said. "They switched it. I set a high screen probably a couple steps inside halfcourt and they covered it. Some said (Staten) should have gone to the basket. Some said I should have re-screened so they'd switch back and maybe I could pop open for a 3, but we didn't do either and we got stuck with a bad shot."
Staten's shot was blocked by Baylor's 6-foot-2 Gary Franklin and WVU lost for the sixth time by five or fewer points.
Staten, a transfer from Dayton who sat out at WVU last season, is 0-for-9 from 3-point range this season and is one of two scholarship guards in the Big 12 without a 3 this season. His last one came Feb. 16, 2011.
"I wasn't really thinking about if it was a good shot or not," he said. "Time was running out and I was trying to make a shot."
Noreen, who after Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State was critical of teammates who didn't know how to run pays in their second year in the program, had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Staten had eight points and three assists. Harris led all scorers with a career-high 21 points and added six rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and a steal.
"It's the end result that matters, regardless of how I play," said Harris, who overtook the team lead in scoring at 9.2 points per game. "We still didn't reach the goal we tried to reach."
WVU shot 8-for-29 in the second half and was once 1-for-13 and outscored 20-11 over an 11:43 span. The Mountaineers (13-15, 6-9 Big 12) have now lost three in a row for the second time this season to match the longest losing streak in six years with Huggins. He hasn't had a four-game losing streak since the 1985-86 season at Akron.
WVU plays Saturday at Kansas, Wednesday at Oklahoma and then plays host to Iowa State March 9. A 3-0 record against teams 4-0 against WVU this season is needed to guarantee the Mountaineers enter the Big 12 Tournament with a winning record.
The NCAA Tournament now out of reach without winning that tournament, WVU has to find a way to finish above .500 - and probably two games above .500 - to make the NIT. Since the NCAA bought the NIT in 2006, all 224 selections have had winning records and only two have been just one game above .500.
"We had a whole lot of chances," Huggins said. "We don't get any stops when we need to get stops and we don't make shots when we need to make shots."
Baylor (17-11, 8-7) snapped a three-game losing streak and maintained the unbeaten record the Big 12's top six teams have against WVU this season (10-0). The Bears hadn't won since beating WVU by 20 points at home two weeks earlier and snapped a three-game losing streak by shooting 52.2 percent in the second half and getting their first 16 points after halftime in the paint.
That collapsed WVU's defense and Baylor then made two 3s and a long jumper in successive possessions to take a 55-50 lead.
Freshman center Isaiah Austin had 21 points and made a pair of 3s. He had 11 points in the first 8:49. Jackson had 10 of his 15 points after halftime and A.J. Walton added 10 points.
Brady Heslip, who made six 3s against WVU in the first game and scored 20 points, was 0-for-6 from 3-point range Wednesday and had four points. Forward Rico Gathers scored 22 points two weeks ago against the Mountaineers, but had just four Wednesday.
"We knew it would be a great game," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We knew it would be a tough place to play because Coach Huggins does a phenomenal job and you know how hard his teams always play and you know how tough they rebound. We are very blessed to get out with a win. Neither team shot well, but I though both teams competed."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.