West Virginia Looks To Win Home Finale', Remain In Race For Tournament Two-Seed

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It figures that the two players shooting the best were on the forefront of minds during Bob Huggins' session of the Big 12 coaches teleconference.

Huggins was asked about both Jaysean Paige and Nathan Adrian. Paige has eclipsed Devin Williams as the team scoring leader, averaging 14.3 points per game via an array of step-in threes and step back jumpshots, mixed with a penchant for finishing while taking contact at the rim. The senior is shooting 46.8 percent from the floor, and 33.9 percent from three-point range - second only to Adrian's 45.5 percent.

"He's been terrific," Huggins said of the newly-named Big 12 Player of the Week. "He has not only scored points, but scored points at key times. We started him once and he didn't have a good game. He said 'Coach, I'd rather just come off the bench.' And the way we play, bringing him and Tarik (Phillip) off the bench helps us."

Paige's start came Jan. 9 at home against Oklahoma State, and the guard missed eight of 10 shots, including all four threes, to finish with nine points. It was one of just two times Paige has been held in single digits in Big 12 play this season, not accounting for the Texas game in which he was injured and played only six minutes. Paige had been on the Mountaineers' recruiting radar even out of Perry County Central High in Kentucky, but attended the College of Southern Idaho as a freshman before transferring to Moberly Area Community College in Missouri. He verbally committed to Southern Miss, then reopened his recruitment after a coaching change.

"We had some scholarships come open at the 11th hour with guys transferring, and my staff, I have three former head coaches so I have guys who know a bunch of people," Huggins said. "With everything that was going on at Southern Miss, Jaysean wasn't going to stay there."

While Adrian's path was much more direct, simply going across town from Morgantown High to WVU, the junior's productivity has been on the uptick of late. Adrian has started 10 consecutive games, scoring 78 points over the stretch. The forward has hit 14-of-22 threes in the span, with excellent shot selection, and it appears any lingering effects from a wrist injury have finally ceased.

"It's a combination of both, that he's fixed - there wasn't a lot wrong with his shot - but he has fixed some things mechanically, and the honest to god real truth is that he has spent a lot of time in the gym," Huggins said. "He has worked on shooting the ball and he's shooting game shots."

Which means not taking poor, off-balance looks. Adrian is at his best when he has a clean, step-in look that isn't rushed. And while that's true of most players, Adrian had forced some shots earlier that he's now passing, literally, on to get either himself of the offense better looks later in the set. It's helped the No. 10 Mountaineers (22-7, 11-5) stay in the Big 12 race into the final week. With games left against Texas Tech and Baylor, WVU is mathematically able to tie for the Big 12 title, though the best seed it can earn in the conference's postseason tournament is a two.

"I'm never happy," Huggins said. "We have got to be more consistent. Our execution still at times is not good, and we definitely have to do a better job in transition."

Huggins also looked ahead to Wednesday's Senior Night match-up against the Red Raiders, now 18-10 overall and 8-8 in the league. Tech has won five of six, including three straight wins over Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma, teams then ranked 14th, 21st and third in the nation. Head coach Tubby Smith's team has lost only to Kansas, now back atop the polls released Monday.

"Anybody that knows Tubby, and Tubby and I go way back, knew that he was going to get it going," Huggins said. "It was a matter of those guys he recruited maturing a little bit and understanding what he wanted done. The do a terrific job on offense and they keep you off balance. (Aaron) Ross is a really hard guard, and (Devaugntah) Williams gives them somebody who can get it at the rim. They are playing really well as a team and they keep getting better. I'm not surprised, not even a little bit."


BlueGoldNews Top Stories