By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
No. 15 Iowa State has about 100 reasons to want to beat West Virginia in their 8 p.m. rematch tonight at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
Make that 102 reasons, to be exact, for that’s how many points the Mountaineers threw on the Cyclones during a 102-77 victory in the Coliseum on Feb. 10, the widest margin of victory over a Top 25 team since WVU downed 15th ranked Ohio State by 28 in Columbus on Dec. 27, 2008.
And West Virginia has just one reason to want to beat Iowa State — survival.
The game can be seen on WVFX in Clarksburg.
It is games like this one that make the Big 12 so compelling a conference, for not only has it become the best in the nation but it has also become the most competitive, with each team playing home-and-home with everyone else in the league.
There’s no first-game butt-stompings that go without giving that opponent a shot at revenge, and revenge is among the strongest of incentives a team can have, not that Iowa State isn’t also looking to give itself the best seed it can in the conference tournament, Iowa State currently tied for second with Texas at 9-5, a half-game ahead of a 9-5 Oklahoma team and a full game ahead of a 9-6 Kansas State team that played at Texas Tech Tuesday night.
Iowa State already this year has avenged a loss at Oklahoma and another one at Texas, and one might recall on Saturday Kansas turning around an 81-69 beating at Texas with a thorough 85-54 beating in Lawrence.
And they are looking to do the same against WVU.
“Whenever you lose by 25 to a team you thought you could go into there and beat them,” forward Georges Niang told the Ames Tribune, “you’re obviously going to have the next date that you play them circled on your calendar.”
Not that the Mountaineers are in any danger of being ambushed in Ames, for they are down to their last gasp of any NCAA hopes, needing desperately to win at least two — and probably three — of their final four games, and score a win or two in the Big 12 Tournament.
And one suspects that coming off a disastrous loss to Baylor, 88-75, in which Coach Bob Huggins openly questioned his team’s “commitment to excellence,” they will be as prepared as they can be for the game.
“We’re not out. We feel we can go out on the road and win,” said junior guard Juwan Staten. “We have four games to get it right. We just need to pick up our sense of urgency.”
The problem is you have two teams going in opposite directions since the first meeting.
WVU has dropped consecutive games to Texas and Baylor by almost identical scores — 88-71 and 88-75 — and in almost identical manners — Texas outscoring WVU, 46-14, in the paint, and Baylor outscoring the Mountaineers, 38-12, there.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has rebounded with three consecutive victories, beating Texas Tech, Texas and TCU.
Admittedly Texas Tech and TCU are not among the conference’s elite — TCU being winless in the Big 12 at 0-14 — but a win is a win is a win and they were much needed by Iowa State and its star player Melvin Ejim to regain its confidence.
WVU stuffed Ejim in the first meeting, holding the league’s leading scorer to just six points on 1 of 9 shooting from the field.
But when it was brought up in Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call that Ejim might be looking for a big bounce back after the way the Mountaineers stopped him, Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg was not ready to limit it to that.
“Not just Melvin,” Hoiberg said. “It was the whole team. They exposed us in a lot of areas. The big thing was we could get back and focus on basics since then.”
Someone wondered if, perhaps, the down game at WVU served a “wakeup call” for his team.
“A wakeup call?” said Hoiberg, repeating the question. “I don’t know. You probably have games over a season that show your team they are not as good as they think they are.”
And that certainly was one of them.
Ejim gets a lot of help as Iowa State is one of only three teams in America with three players averaging 16 points a game or better, joined by DeAndre Kane (17.4 and coming off consecutive 20-point games) and Georges Niang (17.1).
WVU thought it had turned its season around beating Baylor after having dropped four of five games. The Mountaineers used the Baylor win to propel them on a streak of wins in four of five games, two of them over nationally ranked teams.
But that all came apart with the losses to Texas and Baylor that well may have burst the Mountaineers’ bubble.
“We got to win,” Staten said following the Baylor loss. “It definitely hurts to lose at home, but we’ll keep fighting to the end.”
The game also carries a sidebar in pitting WVU’s Eron Harris back against the Cyclones. In the first meeting, he was ejected late in the game for throwing a punch at Morris in the midst of a scrum under the basket.
Huggins said Monday he had not had a chance to talk to Harris about the rematch but planned to do so before game time. He certainly will not get a friendly greeting from one of the Big 12’s most active student sections.
In Ames, the memory of the moment lives on.
“With some of the plays down toward the end of the game,” ISU’s Ejim said, “I think both teams have a bitter taste in their mouth with what was going on in that game and for us especially with Monte.”
NOTES: Family Day packages are currently on sale at the Mountaineer Ticket Office for the WVU-TCU men’s basketball game this Saturday, March 1, at the Coliseum. The game will tip at 1:30 p.m. Four tickets, four drinks, four hot dogs and one bucket of popcorn can be purchased for $60 by calling 1-800-WVU GAME or by visiting WVUGAME.com. Family Day packages must be ordered by 5 p.m. Friday ... WVU has declared swingman Terry Henderson out of his second straight game due to an unstated health problem.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.