Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 5, 2014

Texas Tech game critical to Mountaineers' season

By CAM HUFFMAN
for the Daily Telegraph

— Almost every college basketball coach has the same formula for conference success — beat the teams you’re supposed to beat on the road, win the home games and then steal a couple of surprise wins away from home.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is taking a little different approach. After an 8-5 finish in the nonconference schedule, the veteran coach thinks his Mountaineers need to look for even more.

“I think we’ve got to win them all,” said Huggins. “If we’re going to realize what these guys want to realize, we’ll have to win a lot of games.”

By either formula, today’s Big 12 game against Texas Tech is critical for the Mountaineers (9-5, 1-0 Big 12) coming off Saturday’s 74-69 victory on the road at TCU.

Texas Tech (8-6), picked to finish ninth out of 10 Big 12 teams in the preseason poll, is one of those teams WVU is “supposed to beat.”

Texas Tech has lost most of its “big games,” falling to Alabama, Pitt, No. 2 Arizona, LSU and Arizona State, and it lost to the 13-19 Mountaineers twice last season, before getting revenge with a win in the Big 12 Tournament, bringing WVU’s season to an end.

Senior forward Jaye Crockett is the Red Raiders’ go-to guy, averaging 14.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

He’s joined in the paint by junior Jordan Tolbert, who’s averaging 12.5 points and 6.6 boards.

Rebounding could play a major impact for two teams that have struggled in that category. The Red Raiders rank ninth in the Big 12 with 34.9 boards per game, while WVU is seventh at 38.1.

“That’s been an emphasis for us,” said Huggins, who said he has seen some improvement throughout the season. “As we’ve talked about many times, we haven’t rebounded the ball the way we need to rebound the ball.

“We’re still not scoring it around the goal the way we need to score it. But we are finally rebounding and giving ourselves chances.”

The Mountaineers are leaning more and more on junior point guard Juwan Staten, who’s averaging 16.2 points per game and leads the league with a 3.54 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Staten scored 11 of WVU’s final 16 points against TCU, including the final nine.

“He’s a talented guy,” said Huggins. “He’s probably as fast and athletic as anybody at that position. He’s hard to stay in front of.”

Eron Harris is the Big 12’s leading scorer and 3-point shooter, averaging 18.6 points and 2.71 3-pointers per game.

“He’s a competitive kid,” said Huggins. “He competes so hard in practice every day, and he’s put in a ton of time. Most of our guys do.”

Tipoff for today’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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Cam Huffman is sports editor of The Register-Herald.