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WVU basketball: Mountaineers hope to avoid fourth consecutive loss

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins lost four straight games as the head coach at Akron in 1984-85, the first of his now 29 seasons as a Division I head coach. It would be another 27 seasons, 647 wins and 894 games before West Virginia lost four in a row last season. That was a part of an all-time worst seven-game season-ending slide.

These Mountaineers (10-8, 2-3 Big 12) look to prevent another four-game streak in tonight's 8 p.m. game against Texas Tech (10-8, 2-3) inside the Coliseum.

The game will be televised by the Big 12 Network (MASN in Baltimore/Washington, PCNC in Pittsburgh, WIYE-My 5 in Parkersburg, WVFX in Clarksburg, WQCW in Charleston, WOAY in Beckley, WTOV-MeTV in Wheeling/Steubenville and ESPN3.com).

WVU has lost three straight after capping a 2-0 road trip with an overtime win at Texas Tech on Jan. 6. The Mountaineers would like to believe they're far from the team they were a year ago, which was the worst of Huggins' 32 seasons as a college head coach, and that they're actually closer to a better record this season than the standings indicate.

"Obviously, we'd like to win a few here in the short term and the long term, but we played very well in a loss to Oklahoma State. We had a chance to win the game," Huggins said. "Texas came here and played extremely well and we just didn't shoot the ball very well. With our team, we have to shoot it (well) from the perimeter. Then the Kansas State game, they just took it to us and we struggled with our shot."

The Mountaineers were a missed shot away from upsetting Oklahoma State at home Jan. 11, except that Markel Brown's shot went in for the 73-72 win and Juwan Staten's layup didn't. Texas then got easy shots and crushed the Mountaineers on the boards as part of a midseason surge.

The Longhorns would beat Iowa State at home three days later for a three-game winning streak before Tuesday's game against No. 22 Kansas State.

WVU then lost on the road to the Wildcats by the largest margin of the season in the 10th straight win at home for Kansas State, which also had a season-high shooting percentage.

Weak defense is a problem for the Mountaineers, but not all of a sudden. They're No. 7 in the 10-team Big 12 in scoring defense and No. 8 in field-goal percentage defense. What is somewhat new is misfiring from the 3-point line. WVU made just four in both of the past two games - 4-for-25 against Texas, 4-for-15 against Kansas State - after making five or fewer just three times in the first 16 games.

"We have struggled to shoot the ball here the last couple of weeks," Huggins said. "When we don't make perimeter shots, it's hard on us."

It's hard because the Mountaineers don't get stops. Kansas State had the Big 12's worst field-goal and 3-point shooting percentages and the second-lowest scoring average. The Wildcats shot a season-best percentage from the floor and led by double digits for the final 23:21. Texas shot its second-highest percentage of the season and led by at least 10 points for the final 22:11.

"We've got to keep plugging in practice," point guard Juwan Staten said. "Actually, in practice we guard the ball pretty well. Maybe that's because Coach is allowed to stop practice and put us on the treadmill when we're not where we're supposed to be. He can't do that in a game. We need to have the mental toughness to do everything in a game that we do in practice."

The Red Raiders haven't made their name from the 3-point line, either, but their offense will challenge the Mountaineers. Texas Tech was 59-for-188 from 3-point range in non-conference play. WVU made 67 3s in their first seven non-conference games. The Red Raiders are 27-for-80 (33.8 percent) in conference play, including an 8-for-21 game against WVU.

Yet Texas Tech gets the ball inside and the Mountaineers have had issues scoring and defending inside. The Red Raiders average 37.1 points per game in the paint, which would easily set a school record. They average 73.4 total points per game, meaning 51 percent of their scoring comes inside. Their field-goal percentage (47.4) is No. 53 nationally.

WVU gets 26.4 points per game in the paint, or 33.6 percent of its points. Opponents get 41 percent of their points inside. In their eight losses, the Mountaineers have been outscored by more than eight points on average and only outscore the other team by a little more than two points per game in their wins.

In consecutive wins against Baylor and TCU, the Red Raiders shot 57.1 percent overall, 5-for-11 from 3-point range and had 38 points in the paint against the Bears and then went 2-fo-10 from 3-point range, but had 30 points inside and outrebounded TCU by 12.

"I can't say we're shooting the ball better," Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said. "We shot the ball well in the West Virginia game (65.2 percent in the second half, 46.7 percent in the game) and lost and we shot the ball well in the Texas game (52.4 percent in the second half, 45.7 percent in the game) and we lost.

"When we get everyone on the same page, we're pretty good."

All five starters scored in double figures against Baylor and then the bench outscored TCU's 15-2. The Red Raiders won back-to-back Big 12 games for the first time in almost three years and snapped a 12-game road losing streak at TCU.  

Jaye Crockett averages 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds and leads the Big 12 in shooting (56.8 percent). Jordan Tolbert averages 12.1 points and 6.6 rebounds and would lead the conference in shooting (58.3) if he had made six more shots.

Forward Dejan Kravic has 26 points, 19 rebounds, seven assists and six blocked shots the past two games and has shot 50 percent or better in five of the past six games. Dusty Hannahs, who scored 10 unanswered points to spark a rally against WVU, has scored at least 13 points off the bench in three of the past five games.

"There are still things we're having to correct, and you always have to do that to improve, but I think from the confidence standpoint, it's always better to get a win and learn from your mistakes," Smith said. "It's not as much a psychological beating when the coach is correcting you then. It's much easier to correct and to coach when you're winning."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.

 


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