The national leader in steals and turnover margin, WVU tried to implement its new style after being swept in a trio of games against the sizeable Longhorns last year. Instead, No. 20 Texas turned to its 2-3 zone and ability to finish in transition to hand the 16th-rated Mountaineers their first road loss of the season in a 77-50 blowout on Saturday.
West Virginia entered as the only team not to lose on a road or neutral court this season. Texas promptly brought an end to that nine-game streak, dominating on the interior and breaking down a vaunted Mountaineer press with crisp ball handling, intelligent passing and an ability to flourish around the rim via a series of lay-ins and highlight reel dunks. WVU, conversely, never figured out UT’s zone, which forced the subpar shooting team into midrange jumpers or highly contested inside attempts against the largest front line in the Big 12.
“They have great size, but you negate size by outworking and getting into people’s legs,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “We didn’t do anything we talked about doing and worked on doing. … Things don’t go well and then guys want to play one on one. But how are you going to play one on one against a 2-3 zone? It’s one on five. It’s a big boy’s game. We got outmanned.”
West Virginia (15-3, 3-2 Big 12) had just one player finish in double figures while shooting 24.1 percent, the third-lowest field goal percentage in school history. Texas amassed a 51-15 edge in frontcourt scoring, led by a game-high 19 points from 6-9, 285-pound center Cameron Ridley. Forward Jonathan Holmes added 16, 11 from the line as UT made 31 of 37 from the stripe. Texas (13-4, 2-2) also had a 44-32 edge on the boards.
Gary Browne paced the Mountaineers with 14 points. Jevon Carter had nine on three consecutive three-pointers, but missed his other seven shots, five of them threes. Juwan Staten didn’t make a field goal until there were 64 seconds left, and he failed to record an assist in 26 minutes. WVU’s starting five, in fact, combined for two assists against 10 turnovers – by far the worst ratio of the season; the team finished with 17 turnovers overall, tying the previous high set against Virginia Tech.
“We aren’t going to beat Texas (like that),” Huggins said. “You can say we missed shots, but we didn’t rebound the ball. We turned it over 17 times against a 2-3 zone. We were very careless and lackadaisical with the basketball.”
WVU trailed 37-23 at the half, and never got closer than 11 points over the final 20 minutes. Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton struggled with Texas’ size, combining for just 14 points with six turnovers in 28 total minutes. The two fouled out within 80 seconds of each other in the midst of a 17-2 run that put the game out of reach with seven minutes left.
Holton exited with 7:24 to play, finishing with seven points and three rebounds in just eight minutes of play. Williams followed just over a minute later with much the same stat line of seven points, four rebounds and five turnovers. The sophomore showed a rare loss of composure, being called for a technical after dunking in frustration following a charge with nine minutes left. The two fouls gave him four, and the resulting free throws pushed the Texas lead to 62-47.
“We weren’t ready from a mental standpoint of grinding,” Huggins said. “They spread us out and we hurt ourselves. You don’t go trap guys who can’t bounce it and we did. We had a total breakdown. We didn’t make rotations. How many times did they dunk it at the other end? We weren’t like we normally were in rotating and getting to the ball like we normally do.”
West Virginia made several decent pushes over the first 10 minutes of the second half, but a combination of missed shots, botched rebounds and poor free throw shooting doomed the effort. The differentials over the last four series games are 11 17, 17 and now 27 points.
“It’s like we said after Iowa State: This one can’t make us lose on Saturday,” Huggins said.
West Virginia plays host to TCU on Sat., Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. The game is sold out.