WVU came off three consecutive league victories, but was dominated by a sizeable Bears’ frontline led by Rico Gathers, who tumbled into Browne early in the game, injuring the senior’s left ankle and causing him to miss all but the first 2:39 of play. That injury followed the knee injury sustained by Juwan Staten, the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, late in the win over Texas. Staten, held out of this game, was “clipped,” according to head coach Bob Huggins, and was said to be day-to-day.
That left West Virginia with several other guard options, but none that possess the savvy and ball security abilities of the duo, which had anchored a recent win at Oklahoma State. It also left the Mountaineers short their leading scorer in Staten’s 14.5 points per game average, and his ability to create his own shot, along with open looks for others by breaking down the zone and one-on-one match-ups in man sets. Browne, a team captain who averages 7.3 points in 20.5 minutes, will have x-rays to determine the extent of the injury. Huggins said he thought Browne might have a high ankle sprain, which could sideline him from for an extended period.
“Losing Gary was hard because you have to be able to make adjustments during the course of the game,” Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “Our freshmen were trying. It wasn’t just that we had five new guys out there, but we had two freshmen with the ball.”
How much that mattered is questionable, considering Baylor won 87-69 in Morgantown after scoring 20 of the game’s first 23 points in the initial series meeting with both Browne and Staten healthy. The games were a mirror of one another, the Bears cruising in this one via a combination of excellent ability to break pressure and attack the rim along with solid outside shooting. BU (22-7, 10-6 Big 12) shot 51 percent overall, 53.3 from three-point range. Taurean Prince came off the bench for a game-high 20 points, while Royce O’Neal added 18 points and Gathers had 17 and 10 rebounds.
West Virginia (22-7, 10-6) was led by Jevon Carter’s 25 points, three short of his career-high set versus VMI. Carter hit seven threes in his first career start in place of Staten; only four players in school history have hit more in a game in Alex Ruoff with nine and Chris Leonard, Mike Gansey and Frank Young with eight. Daxter Miles added 11 points as the only other Mountaineer in double figures.
Baylor led 7-2 when Browne sustained the injury after he and Gathers tangled for a loose ball at the 17:21 mark. The 6-8, 275-pound forward fell onto Browne’s left knee area. Browne grabbed the joint and lay on the floor for more than a minute while being tended to by team coordinator of athletic training services Randy Meador. Meador and associate director of strength and conditioning Andy Kettler then helped Browne off the floor as WVU went with a line-up of Carter, Tarik Phillip, Jaysean Paige, Jonathan Holton and Devin Williams.
It didn’t seem to matter, as the lead shot to 13-4 with 14:30 remaining after a pair of lay-ins off an offensive rebound and a turnover. West Virginia kept the differential in the single-digits until Motley hit a jumper for a 27-16 lead with 7:30 to play. The Bears then continued to up the edge with a series of solid defensive stops followed by drives to the rim and open kick-out threes. The highlight for Baylor came when Gathers leaked out for a windmill dunk to put WVU down 43-24 with less than two minutes left. BU led 45-29 at the break, having shot a sizzling 65.4 percent with advantages in assists and, worse, rebounds and steals. WVU’s two largest halftime deficits of the season both came against Baylor.
“I thought we came out and didn’t have the fire that we have had,” Huggins said. “Pressure was nonexistent because we didn’t have that fire. They shot it way better than we do and they pass it way better than we do, do we have to play a lot harder than we do.”
The Mountaineers never got closer than nine points in the second half, that at 56-47 after a pair of free throws by Miles as WVU was in the bonus with 10:43 remaining. The Bears reached the bonus 25 seconds later. Miles had a chance to trim the lead to eight with another one-and-one situation with nine minutes to play and Baylor leading 59-49, but missed the front end off the back iron. The Bears then extended the edge back to 75-55 with 5:30 remaining to seal it. BU has had at least a six-point lead in every game, one of just three teams in the nation to boast such a stat (Kentucky and Gonzaga).
“They play a really good zone, and they played a really good triangle and two they mixed into the zone,” Huggins said. “You had two freshmen out there trying to make adjustments on the fly. It’s hard. They played that triangle and two last game, and I knew when Jevon hit shots they were going to go to it.”
Baylor, second in the Big 12 in steals to West Virginia, had 10 compared to the Mountaineers’ seven – which tied their second-lowest total of the year. BU also had a 14-point edge at the foul line. The win increased the Bears’ all-time series edge to 6-1, but did not mathematically eliminate WVU’s ability to challenge for the Big 12 regular season title. The Mountaineers next play at No. 8 Kansas on Tuesday at 9 p.m. eastern.