West Virginia’s Bob Huggins sure sounds motivated by last year’s runner-up finish at the Big 12 tournament, but don’t ask the often-irascible coach whether his players feel the same way.
“I don’t know, man. You’re asking me to know what they’re thinking,” Huggins said after his No. 11 Mountaineers cruised to a 63-53 win over Texas in the quarterfinals Thursday night. “I wish I knew.”
He should at least feel confident that Jevon Carter is sufficiently motivated. The star guard poured in 21 points to give West Virginia (25-7) its only consistent offense, while the rest of his guys turned up their trademark defense to make life miserable for the Longhorns.
Texas (11-22) wound up with 14 turnovers, failed to score the 5:34 of the game and never got star freshman Jarrett Allen involved in the game – he managed just nine points and 10 rebounds.
“We’re trying to win. We didn’t get it done in the finals a year ago and there’s no sense playing if you’re not playing to win,” said Huggins, whose team will play ninth-ranked Baylor or Kansas State in the semifinals Friday night. “We’re trying to win.”
Andrew Jones had 13 points for the Longhorns, who matched a school record with their 22nd loss.
“I thought they did what West Virginia does so well. They were the more aggressive team and over the course of the game, I think there was a cumulative effect of the way they played,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “Obviously, they shot the ball better from outside. That was a big difference as well.”
The No. 10 seed Longhorns, who rallied past Texas Tech in the opening round to snap a seven-game skid, managed to forge a lead midway through the first half despite digging an early hole.
But the Mountaineers’ in-your-shorts defense began to pay off with turnovers, and they went on a brief run into the locker room. Then, they extended their 39-30 advantage to as many as 13 points in the second half, taking a 47-34 lead when Sagaba Konate threw down a dunk with 15 minutes to go.
Kerwin Roach Jr. stopped the run with a 3-pointer, and by the time Mareik Isom scored a few minutes later, the orange-clad Longhorns had closed to 47-41 with 12 minutes left.
But try as they might, the Longhorns couldn’t climb all the way back.
Carter’s fifth 3 off a steal by Nathan Adrian pushed West Virginia’s lead back to 57-46. Adrian’s put-back a couple minutes later made it 61-51. And the Mountaineers’ defense did the rest, preventing the Longhorns from getting any good looks in the game’s closing minutes.
“West Virginia plays hard and aggressive. That’s kind of their MO,” Jones said. “At certain points of the game, them being overly aggressive took us out of our offense a little bit.”
Asked later whether top-ranked Kansas’s loss to TCU earlier in the day provided a wakeup call for West Virginia, Carter replied: “We didn’t really pay much attention to what other teams are doing.”
“It’s about us,” he said. “We just take it one game at a time. You can’t win the next game if you don’t win the current game. That was the message to the team: Just focus on this game.”
STATS AND STREAKS
West Virginia won despite going 10 of 20 from the foul line. Texas was even worse, going 8 of 19 at the stripe. … The Mountaineers hit six 3-pointers in the first half. They hit one in the second.
Texas extended its season by a day with its win over the Red Raiders, but now the offseason begins for Smart and Co. His 20-13 record in Year 1 is already a distant memory.
West Virginia has not won a conference tournament title since 2010, when the Mountaineers were still in the Big East. They lost to Kansas in the Big 12 title game last year.
Texas heads back to Austin to enjoy next week’s SXSW Music Festival.
West Virginia gets ready for another Big 12 semifinal.