Assessing the Progress

As West Virginia gets ready to enter the second half of the Big 12 Conference schedule, it finds itself in a much different place than it was in a year ago.

After rattling off back-to-back wins against Baylor and Kansas State in the last week, the Mountaineers currently sit at 5-4 in conference play and are tied with the Wildcats for fourth in the leauge.

With just nine games left to play in conference play before heading to Kansas City for the Big 12 tournament, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins is seeing a noticeable difference in his team the further it gets into the season.

"We're getting better. We were so young to begin the year and I think our freshmen are starting to understand what it takes to win in this league," Huggins said Monday on the Big 12 Coaches Teleconference. "I don't think they had any idea, as much as I think the older guys tried to tell them, I don't think they had any understanding of how hard this league really is.

"We obviously need to make shots because we're so perimeter-oriented, but we're getting better defensively and I think that's been the biggest difference."

One of the biggest catalysts in WVU's recent turnaround has been its junior point guard, Juwan Staten. The Dayton, Ohio, native is coming off the best game of his career, scoring 35 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out five assists against K-State. Staten also scored 15 points and had nine assists in the win against Baylor.

"He's tried to learn the game. He's just gotten so much better with his decision making," Huggins said. "Everybody had a year they'd like to forget a year ago. Wanny is one of those guys and he's grown up a great deal."

It seems like this will be a vast improvement from the Mountaineers' eighth-place finish a year ago. But WVU didn't start much worse in the first nine games, going 4-5 to begin its first year in Big 12 play. It was dropping their last six games of the regular season that doomed that Mountaineer team.

If WVU wants to have a chance to play in the postseason this year, it will have to be able to bounce back quickly from tough losses and get back to track like it has shown it can do early in conference play so far.

"(Getting to the tournament) hasn't really been a point of discussion. I think it's been more about getting ready for the next game," Huggins said. "We let the Oklahoma State loss at home bother us more than we should have and we're trying to get them to be at a point where, whether we win or lose, we've got to play in three days.

"Win or lose, you've got to forget about that and get ready for the next game."

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