Texas’ performance in its regular season finale against Texas Tech was one of its worst of the year. The Longhorns needed a confidence-boosting win in their Big 12 tournament opener.
They got it, beating West Virginia 66-49 Thursday night in a lopsided Big 12 quarterfinal.
The Longhorns improved to 12-3 all time in the quarterfinals and advanced to the semifinals, where they are 6-6, to face Baylor on Friday night.
“Everybody was on point and ready to play today,” Texas guard Martez Walker said. “We’ve been taking a lot of L’s on the road. Tonight we just tried to come out with a sense of urgency and show we’re still here.”
West Virginia saved arguably its best regular season performance for last when it knocked off Kansas in a 92-86 shocker last weekend. Still firmly on the bubble despite going 9-9 in what is considered the nation’s best conference, the Mountaineers desperately needed a résumé-boosting victory to start Big 12 tournament play.
They didn’t get it.
“We were the sixth [seed] in the best conference in the country,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said when asked if his team should earn an NCAA Tournament berth. “I’ve learned you can sit there on Sunday and try to figure it out, but how do I know what goes on? I’m not sure we are in. If you take today aside, yeah we are.”
The Longhorns jumped all over West Virginia right from the opening tip, scoring the game’s first 12 points and starting the game on a 21-4 run. The Mountaineers were ice-cold shooting, connecting on only two of their first 21 field goal attempts.
Maybe the most exciting part of the game didn’t even happen on the court. Near the midway point of the second half, Kendal Yancy saved a loose ball about to go out of bounds and landed in the lap of Texas men’s athletic director Steve Patterson before rushing back to the floor.
“Nearly taken out by Kendal Yancy,” Patterson tweeted minutes after the collision. “Good hustle.”
Three minutes in and Jonathan Holmes had already scored seven straight points for Texas. Five minutes in and Javan Felix had already nailed 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, scoring eight points to help the Longhorns take a commanding 15-2 lead.
Holmes, who is playing through a right knee injury, and Felix were each held to seven points on a collective 4 of 12 shooting in Texas’ 59-53 loss to Texas Tech last Saturday, but both shined against West Virginia.
Holmes scored 11 of his 20 points and Felix scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half. They were Texas’ only two players to score in double figures but with the Longhorns stifling the Mountaineers on defense all night, that was plenty.
“We were just playing really hard, talking and communicating, moving our feet and being in the right position,” Holmes said of his team’s defensive performance. “I think we did a good job keeping our hands up and getting deflections, making it hard for them to pass the ball.
Martez Walker scored six straight points at one point in the one-sided first half, including a four-point play after he drilled a long ball from the corner while knocked to the floor by Eron Harris. By the time the teams trotted to the locker room, the Longhorns were up 35-14 on the helpless Mountaineers.
“I know it was going in,” Walker said of his four-point play. “I just know if it comes to me, I have to shoot the same shot with no hesitation. That was my thing in the first part of the season I had to correct. I didn’t shoot the ball when I was open, on drive and kicks I wasn’t shooting. I’m trying to shoot the ball in [situations] like that.”
Devin Williams, Harris and Juwan Staten, the Big 12’s leading scorer, combined for 74 points in West Virginia’s upset of Kansas on Saturday. They combined for only nine points on 3 of 20 shooting Thursday.
“We knew they were going to come out with confidence and poise. We wanted to end that,” Texas guard Isaiah Taylor said. “We knew that Staten was a vital part of the offense. He gets in the paint and creates for others. We wanted to keep him out of the paint and have him take contested 2s.”
The 14 first-half points they allowed were one more than the fewest they had ever allowed in Big 12 play, two more than the fewest ever scored by a team in a half of a Big 12 tournament game and three more than Texas had ever allowed in a half against any opponent.
After three Big 12 quarterfinals that went down to the wire Thursday, Texas dominated West Virginia in every way possible in the first half. The Longhorns shot 50 percent from the floor while not missing any of their seven free throw tries and keeping the Mountaineers, who shot just 18.2 percent in the first half, from hitting any of their eight 3-point attempts.