Winning Ugly

Whoever said they'd rather win ugly than lose pretty must have had West Virginia's victory over Baylor in mind.

In among the more egregious audacities against James Naismith's game, we present a synopsis of the final eight minutes of play at BU's Ferrell Center on Tuesday. First, the set-up: West Virginia entered having lost four of its last five. Baylor countered by staggering in with four straight defeats, and five in its last six games. The teams battled adequately over the first 32 minutes, Baylor last holding a lead at 9-8 at the 14:45 mark. WVU nursed a 55-51 edge when things began to unravel as both teams, showcasing solid effort, got almost nothing correct in the execution department.

First, Baylor committed a turnover before West Virginia shooting guard Terry Henderson badly missed a three. The Bears, still down four, then knocked the ball out of bounds off two of their own players before West Virginia returned the favor when, with a fresh shot clock, Remi Dibo put up a contested three that missed. The hijinks proved only the tip of the iceberg.

Baylor missed two free throws down 62-56 with five minutes left. West Virginia, in the midst of five-minute stretch in which it would score just one field goal, then committed another shot clock violation when ahead 64-60. Baylor didn't break serve, throwing the ball away at the other end on the ensuing possession. The Mountaineers topped that when Juwan Staten missed a free throw in a one-and-one situation, Devin Williams rebounded, and then was blocked with two minutes left. Still, not to be outdone, BU's 6-2 sharpshooter, Brady Heslip, inexplicably tried to drive to the rim in transition on the next possession. Instead, he threw up a wild brick that was rebounded by the Mountaineers with 90 seconds to play.

Somehow, it didn't end there. Dibo, after a timeout, aided the infuriating sequence by doing the same, driving and tossing a shot off the glass that was knocked off Harris and out of bounds, setting up Heslip's three from the left wing that got the Bears within 64-63 heading to the final minute. West Virginia, which committed seven fouls in the first seven minutes of second half play to put Baylor in the bonus for the final 13 minutes, finally reached the double bonus itself when Chery was called for a foul of Staten. Staten, however, missed both free throws, leaving the Mountaineers – once ahead a game-high 64-56 with five minutes left –clinging to a lead that was gone when BU's Rico Gathers hit a free throw to tie at 64-64 with 36 seconds left.

That did, however, set-up perhaps the finest play of the night, Staten's game winner. The junior, as he has all season, took the game in his hands, dribbling the clock inside the 10-second mark before getting a double screen near the top of the key. The point guard drove right, then pushed past Chery to gain the baseline angle before putting up a left-handed scoop that kissed the glass and fell cleanly through the netting. In all, the Mountaineers went more than five minutes at the end of the game without a field goal prior to Staten's lay-up. Baylor was almost as futile, managing just two field goals in the final five minutes.

One figured it was over at that point, but Baylor still got a reasonable look at the end. The teams then swapped timeouts, setting up a final play on which West Virginia chose not to guard the inbounds, allowing Chery a catch-and-run opportunity near half court. Chery put the ball on the floor for four dribbles – one too many – before nailing an off-balance bank shot that left his hand a tenth of a second too late. The three, which would have given Baylor the win, was waved off, and West Virginia celebrated its third Big 12 road victory of the season. WVU head coach Bob Huggins said guarding the inbounds hadn't worked well in the past, and that head coaching decision certainly can't be overly ridiculed. But to watch the Bears, every bit disaster West Virginia was during the final minutes, threaten to come away with the victory was almost a replay of the season as a whole. Get close, have the lead, fail to finish.

This time, though, the Mountaineers flipped the script on the latter part. Call it ugly, call it an escape…just be sure to call it a win. WVU didn't shoot particularly well, at 40 percent, and was outrebounded by ten. But the Mountaineers managed 16 more shots by forcing 17 turnovers while committing just six. They showed hustle, and protected the ball, and the lead, most of the game. This was a contest won by the lesser of two evils. But it gained West Virginia (12-9, 4-4 Big 12) a solid third conference road victory and set-up a winnable weekend clash against Kansas State. Get that, and the Mountaineers are just three wins away – with home contests against TCU and Baylor yet to play – from locking in a winning regular season.

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