Healthy Staten key for WVU

As West Virginia was getting into Big 12 Conference play, it was having to do so with its most important player - senior point guard Juwan Staten - playing through illness and trying to bounce back from it.

It affected his play somewhat as the team started the conference slate. After missing the Big 12 opener against TCU, Staten was averaging 11.5 points and 3.2 assists per game, down from what he was doing as he led the Mountaineers through non-conference play.

But in Saturday's overtime win against TCU, Staten looked like his old self again (with the exception of a few missed free throws down the stretch). He scored 18 points and had a career-high 12 assists in the victory.

"He's healthy, I think that's the biggest thing," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins Monday during the Big 12 teleconference. "He played through some stuff at Texas Tech and lost some weight."

Having a healthy Staten at the point as the Mountaineers prepare to enter a crucial stretch in Big 12 play as they enter the final third of the season. West Virginia is 17-6 in the last three seasons when Staten finishes a game with at least 15 points and five assists. He's currently averaging 15.2 points and 4.4 assists per game.

"He's just now back to where he's healthy and bouncy again," Huggins said. "It's hard to make shots when you don't have that bounce.

"He's the engine that drives the train, so we need him to play well."

The Mountaineers will hit the road to take on Kansas State Tuesday night, a team it has had its fair share of struggles against in Manhattan. Since joining the Big 12, WVU has lost both games at Bramlage Coliseum by at least 10 points - with last year's game ending up a 22-point victory for the Wildcats.

After struggling a bit to start the year, Kansas State seems to be gathering some momentum in Big 12 play. K-State has won five of its last six games with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma. Bruce Weber's team is led by Marcus Foster (13.7 points, 2.3 assists per game) and Nino Williams (12 points, 5.1 rebounds per game), and will present challenges to the Mountaineers.

Foster, in particular, has played extremely well since the Wildcats opened Big 12 play and has proven why he was a preseason all-conference selection at the start of the season.

"He's a terrific shooter. He's an absolutely terrific shooter," Huggins said. "This league is full of good players and Marcus is right there at the top."

It's the type of challenge the Mountaineers have gotten used to, and will have to continue being prepared for, as the Big 12 is looking stronger than ever right now with solid players at every team in the league.

Conference play has not yet reached the halfway point, yet every Big 12 team already has at least one loss and only Kansas hasn't lost a second conference game yet.

"This is just such a hard league that you can't get too full of yourself or too far down. If you get too far down, you'll get buried," Huggins said. "If you get full of yourself, you'll get knocked off. We preach to be even keel."


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