MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia has this one habit this season that's interchangeably good and bad, and at the same time entirely appropriate.
"We just don't sustain anything," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "I think before we sustained things longer, but we kind of get on a run and we just have a hard time sustaining a run. It's like that with a number of things we do. We'll do something good and we stop doing it."
His Mountaineers, which host Kansas State this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (televised by WQCW in Charleston), can play poorly enough to fall behind and well enough to get close, but just not convincingly enough to win. They can play strongly enough to lead, but not so strong to hold off the opponent and prevent its comeback. They can make a bunch of shots in a row and miss just as many in succession. They make game-winners and miss them.
In short, WVU (12-9, 4-4 Big 12) is no worse than entertaining, a competitive team that witnesses deficits being built in front of them and then gets to work on taking them down; a team that takes big leads and fights to protect them; a team that seems to decide a lot of games at the end.
The Mountaineers have lost only two games by more than 10 points - and one of those was an 11-point loss to a Texas team that did little wrong and still couldn't bury a WVU team that missed 21 of 25 3-point shots and was outrebounded by 19.
Even their postgame soirees with the media are lively because the Mountaineers assertively avoided the cliché after Tuesday's win against Baylor. True, the next game remains the biggest game for the Mountaineers, but now because of the opponent and the opportunity. One game is finally bigger than another.
"I feel like we owe them one," guard Eron Harris said of Kansas State. "We didn't play like us when we played them the first time this season. We need to redeem ourselves."
The Wildcats (15-6, 5-3) beat WVU by 22 points - twice as much as any other team had - Jan. 18 at Bramlage Coliseum. WVU trailed by double digits for the final 23:21 and had its lowest point total (56) and shooting percentage (32.7) this season. Kansas State led by 25 points in the second half, matching the season-high lead Missouri built against WVU in December. The Mountaineers rallied in that road game and got as close as eight points in the final minute, but had no such response in Manhattan, Kan.
"We feel we need to pay this team back," point guard Juwan Staten said. "We've been in every single game but that one. They came out and hit us in the mouth early. They showed they were tougher than us and they were more physical and they wanted it more - that day. We don't feel like that's how it really is."
A WVU win and a Baylor win against Oklahoma State on Saturday would put the Mountaineers in fourth place in the conference after half of the league games. It would also give WVU its second Big 12 winning streak this season and the third since joining the conference last season.