Ever-present foul trouble and the breakneck pace of West Virginia's pressing defense has forced Bob Huggins to go to his bench early and often every game this year, and while Jaysean Paige has garnered plenty of headlines for his big contributions as the team’s sixth man, he is certainly not the only reserve making his presence felt.
Junior guard Tarik Phillip has taken on the role as West Virginia’s second point guard this season, but has brought more than ball handling ability to the table.
Phillip is perhaps the team’s most active defender, causing havoc in the press, while providing confidence and a firm belief in his teammates that permeates through the ranks.
Up to this point in the season, which has almost reached its halfway point, Phillip said he and his teammates have learned that they are never out of a game, but they have also allowed their opponents to stick around too long at times too.
“We can’t give up, no matter if we’re down or we’re up. We just can’t let up at all. You’ve seen teams come back on us sometimes, and we’ve been down in a couple games and came back and won the game. We just can’t give up,” Phillip said.
Part of the reason for West Virginia’s keeping things interesting this year has been its propensity for not just turning other teams over, but for turning it over themselves. The Mountaineers have turned opponents over 296 times so far, but have given it back 208 times themselves. Phillip said that his team’s issue has just been a lack of focus at times.
“I feel like it’s been just a couple bonehead plays, a couple turnovers and errors that were unforced; throwing the ball to the other team. That’s just part of it,” he said.
Despite all the turnovers and foul issues, West Virginia finds itself at 13-1, ranked 17th in the AP poll and sitting at 2-0 in the Big 12 after opening conference play with nail-biting wins over Kansas State and TCU on the road.
West Virginia is ready to take the floor at home in what seems like the first time in forever after a week-long road trip that netted three wins in total. Phillip said the team did plenty of bonding during those three games in seven days, and will be ready to get back to work at the Coliseum tomorrow against Oklahoma State.
“We’ve bonded a lot. As you’ve seen, we need everybody every time. It could be anybody in any game that comes in to play well. We’ve all just got to be ready to play at all times,” he said.
The Cowboys will come into Morgantown featuring a lineup that is smaller than what West Virginia has faced in the past two games. Despite the change, Phillip said his team is equipped to take on any kind of challenge.
“I feel like we’ll adjust well because we can go small if we want to or if we choose to. That’s Huggs’ decision. I feel like we match up well,” he said.