By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If West Virginia is going to make the necessary turnaround to have a shot at post-season play, there is no better time than the present as the Mountaineers travel to Waco, Texas, at 7 p.m. to take on a struggling Baylor team that has dropped its last four games and five of its last six.
The game can be seen on ESPN2.
Baylor carries a 13-6 record into the game with just one Big 12 Conference victory in six league outings, while Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers are 11-9 on the year and 3-4 in league play. WVU has dropped four of its last five outings, including a hard-fought 81-75 loss at Oklahoma State in which it held Player of the Year frontrunner Marcus Smart to just one basket.
West Virginia’s biggest problem has been on defense, as with most teams this season, as they try to become accustomed to the tightening of the rules that have made it more difficult to check offensive players.
“The biggest thing is we have not rebounded as well as in the past, so we are giving people second chances, but nobody can guard,” Huggins said during Monday’s Big 12 Coaches Conference call. “The way game has changed has made it hard for everyone to guard. They’ve kind of made it the way they want. The scores are way higher.”
No one really has been at ease with the way the officials are calling the games.
“It’s been an adjustment period for everyone,” Huggins said. “The biggest thing is how it’s affected secondary defenders. They are probably calling a little more on the ball, but I don’t think that’s the biggest effect. The biggest effect is what happens with secondary defenders.”
The officiating, Huggins believes, comes out of league headquarters.
“I think they do what they are told to do,” he said. “You get a memo that says people are stepping into shooters and so they make sure whether they step into the shooter or not they make the call. They err on the side of doing what they are told to do … if they err … or when they err.”
In WVU’s loss to Oklahoma State, six players fouled out, including Smart and WVU’s top scorer, Eron Harris, who scored 21 points in 21 minutes.
After a brief slump, Harris has refound his shot is 13-of-20 (.650) from 3-point range in the last three games and has seven 20-point outings this season, tied for the most by any Big 12 player.
WVU, however, counts on Terry Henderson to also score a lot of points, but after a career high 28 against Texas Tech, he managed to make only one of 10 shots against Oklahoma State.
“For some reason it seems when Eron is making shots, Terry isn’t, and vice versa, and we need both of those guys to make shots,” Huggins said.
It’s important for West Virginia to not look past this struggling Baylor team, even though it is not living up to its preseason expectations.
“I think our players understand how talented this team is,” Huggins said. “What’s hard is to simulate their length. They have great length and play a lot of matchup zone and do a great job with it. It is extra effective because of their ability to block shots.”
“We had a good practice yesterday,” Coach Scott Drew said. “When you analyze why we’ve faulted the last couple of weeks, we haven’t defended well in conference, giving up 49 percent, and we’ve shot poorly, just 39 percent.
“There’s frustration. Everyone wants to win and is taking it on their shoulders and rather than make the extra pass and help their teammate get the better look, they are shooting the ball,” Drew continued. “That’s understandable because we’ve got a good group of guys who want to win and when you want to win, you press and put it on your shoulders instead of trying to keep it a team game. I think we’re trying to focus on that instead of trusting our teammates.”
That has not been a trouble with WVU, whose point guard Juwan Statler has kept the show running smoothly with the ball being distributed. Staten played all 40 minutes at OSU, the third time in the last four contests he has logged 40 minutes.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.