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WVU basketball: Mountaineers have shot at run

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Even in a season during which West Virginia is one game below .500, there have been moments, whether in victory or in narrow defeat, when players could think things were about to head in a more recognizable direction.

"Let's be honest," Coach Bob Huggins said after Saturday's 77-61 victory at Texas Tech, "there were some games that we should have won. For reasons that were beyond my control and theirs, we didn't. But we had opportunities."

After a 37-point win to open November's Old Spice Classic, the Mountaineers lost by three points to Davidson in the second game of the Old Spice Classic, where they were 8-for-17 at the free-throw line and missed a game-tying 3-point attempt at the end. After a layup with 5 seconds to go beat then-unbeaten Virginia Tech, WVU lost by four to Duquesne, despite holding a 16-point first half lead.

WVU entered the New Year and Big 12 play with a three-game winning streak, but wasted a 12-point lead and lost at home to Oklahoma.

The Mountaineers rallied from 12 points late to win at Texas and felt like they had things figured out, but lost three in a row. The first two were by a combined three points and WVU bobbled its final possession and lost to Kansas State and let Iowa State score on the game's final shot.

The latest uptick came in defeat, when the Mountaineers felt they were worthy to beat No. 2 Kansas pm Monday.

But it's been the moment after the moment, the game after the game, that has been WVU's trouble all season, up until Saturday's win.

The Mountaineers (10-11, 3-5 Big 12) shot the ball better than they have all season and in today's 9 p.m. ESPN game against Texas (10-11, 2-6), have a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since sweeping a late-December homestand against Oakland, Radford and Eastern Michigan.

"Every time you ask me if I feel like this is the start of a run, I say, 'Yeah, I think it is,' " freshman Eron Harris said. "What we know now is we've got to take it game by game because any win can start a run. (Tonight) we've got to bring it out like we're playing Kansas. Every game we've got to bring it out like we're playing Kansas."

It's not that WVU feels other opponents aren't as good or as capable of beating WVU, but that Big Monday stage last week was where WVU had its most competitive display in weeks. That spirit was there, though for more sporadic stretches, against Texas Tech.

The Mountaineers led 16-4 early and pushed back a pair of Texas Tech runs in the second half to finally make good on some momentum.  

It was a necessity, too. Players chanted "Do or die" as they broke a huddle outside their locker room and headed to the floor before the start of the game.

They're aware their season could be defined or discarded by the stretch that started against Texas Tech and sees three straight games and four out of five against teams with WVU in the bottom four spots in the Big 12 standings.

"We can make a run here, because of our strength of schedule," Huggins said. "Historically the (NCAA Tournament's selection committee) has tried to reward teams, where if we get to 17 or 18 (wins) and play well in the conference tournament, we've got a chance. It's not over yet."

WVU beat the Longhorns last month in a game that featured some wild swings late. The Mountaineers trailed by a dozen points with 8:37 to go and by 10 with 3:35 remaining, but tied the score within two minutes. They then took a lead when Harris made a 3 with 16.4 seconds to go, but shuffled into overtime when Texas tied the score on a 3.

The Mountaineers prevailed in overtime, where they held the Longhorns without a basket and walked off the court as the first-ever winner in a Big 12 home-opener at Texas.

"After we won the Texas game, I think we kind of took things for granted," point guard Juwan Staten said. "It was still early in conference play and we didn't realize what we were headed into.

"I think after playing Kansas, that definitely let us know we can compete against anybody, as long as we play with that intensity. That was the No. 2 team in the country and we turned them over 16 times. If we turn them over 16 times, we can turn anyone over 16 times."

Texas Tech had a season-high 22 turnovers against WVU and four came in succession after cutting the deficit to four. WVU turned those errors into 10 points. It was a rare flash of continuity from one game to the next and it came at a curious time.

The Big 12's Saturday-Monday sequences are followed by a break until the following Saturday. After the Kansas loss, the Mountaineers had four straight days without a game for the first time since a seven-day break in late-December. They'll have the same arrangement this week, when they follow tonight's game with four days off before back-to-back road games against TCU and Baylor.

"We had a lot of time to reflect, more time that we did earlier this season," Staten said. "We had two days to rest. We watched a lot of film. Coaches did a lot of talking to us about perspective and how this season is going and the types of things we need to do to get on a roll if we have any hopes for the postseason."

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


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