MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Much has changed since West Virginia and No. 9 Baylor met earlier this year in Morgantown.
West Virginia (15-10, 4-8 Big 12) climbed out of what became a five-game losing streak and got hot, winning five games out of a seven-game stretch from Jan. 18 through Feb. 8. That included knocking off three ranked teams in four weeks.
Baylor (19-6, 8-4 Big 12) has been even better. The Bears have won nine of their last ten games dating back to the Jan. 11 meeting in Morgantown. Baylor has won each of its last three contests, and has taken down a pair of ranked opponents over the hot streak.
One thing that hasn’t changed is West Virginia’s ability to put itself in a bad spot. The Mountaineers caught the turnover bug in Austin on Saturday, tying a season-high with 20 turnovers in a 34-point loss to No. 5 Texas.
“Our defense sucked,” head coach Bob Huggins said Saturday after the loss. “[Texas] didn’t need help. They were bad [at stopping Texas’ offense]. We didn’t need any help being worse.”
One bright spot coming out of Saturday was it marked the second straight game that fifth-year senior forward Emitt Matthews Jr. finished first or second on the Mountaineer roster in scoring. He’s tallied a combined 33 points over the last two games, a number it took him the previous six contests combined to reach.
“When he got hurt, you know, he really didn’t shoot it very well for a pretty decent period after that, and then here of late he’s starting to make shots again,” Huggins said. “I think he’s feeling a lot better. I think he had a hard time getting his legs into it before. I think he’s getting his legs into much better now.”
The ninth-ranked Bears enter Monday’s contest as one of the top teams in the Big 12 Conference. After starting conference play on a three-game losing streak, Baylor has risen to a tie for second place in the league standings. Scott Drew’s club has tallied its last nine wins by an average of 8.89 points per game, with two victories coming by at least 16 points, and another three wins by four points or fewer.
Baylor ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring (78.8 ppg), first in three-point shooting percentage (35.7%), second in team free throw percentage (75.3%), and first in offensive rebounds per game (12.3). However, the Bears have the second-worst scoring defense, second-worst team shooting percentage, the fewest blocked shots, and allow the highest opponent shooting percentage among Big 12 teams.
It has been a mixed bag of results at times for Baylor, but those results have been almost exclusively W’s over the last month. The Mountaineers have also been a mixed bag.
Their last four games include a road loss to No. 15 TCU during which Huggins was displeased with his team’s enthusiasm; a 32-point win over Oklahoma, WVU’s most-lopsided conference win in more than three years; a hard-fought victory over No. 11 Iowa State; and a 34-point loss to Texas on Saturday, the program’s most-lopsided loss to a conference team since 2005.
“On a right day we’re a pretty good team,” said Huggins.
Baylor’s roster includes three of the top 10 scorers in the Big 12 Conference, led by Keyonte George’s 16.9 points per game scoring average. Adam Flagler (15.9 ppg) and LJ Cryer (14.4 ppg) are also among the top scorers in the league.
Erik Stevenson continues to pace the Mountaineers in scoring at 14.4 points per contest. He has struggled in the last two games, scoring just a combined 11 points.
Tip-off between WVU and No. 9 Baylor is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2.