With the Longhorns expected to utilize zone defense, Texas instead came out in primarily man, and Lamont West took advantage, using screens and sheer size to get solid looks over the likes of a 6-11 future NBA forward in Jarrett Allen. West dominated the perimeter in the first half, hitting 5-of-7 three-pointers in helping WVU rally from a 10-point deficit with a 15-0 run to take the lead for good in coasting to a 77-62 win to sweep the season series.
Much of that was due to West, who scored 15 of his carer-best 23 points in one six-minute time frame, often wagging his tongue while heading back up the floor, or offering a wave to his mother, Tonya, who was in attendance for just the second time this season. Coincidence or not, West's play has elevated when his mother has made the drive from Cincinnati to watch games. Tonya was also at the home loss to Oklahoma State, when West set a then-career-high with 21 points by hitting 6-of-12 shots, all from three-point range.
In her two games attended, West has made 12-of-20 threes (60 percent) while scoring 43 points.
"Every game she has ever been to I have played like this," West said. "I might have to move her down here. Whenever she comes, I want to play my best. I don't want to be out there slouching around. I was going to impress her."
West performance was especially key considering it came in a game where Ahmad was scratched due to back spasms. The sophomore struggled with the spasms in the win over Texas Tech on Saturday, and never warmed up prior to the tip against Texas. It was the first game Ahmad has missed this season, and it left West Virginia without an average of 11.7 points (second-best on the team) and four rebounds over 24 minutes played. Head coach Bob Huggins started Dax Miles, going with a three-guard, two-forward line-up. But it quickly became clear that West's hot hand would carry the Mountaineers in the first half, as West played 12 minutes to just six for Miles.
"Once he gets it going, it's hard to stop him, so we have to keep feeding him," said guard Jevon Carter, who poured in a game-high 24 points as the pair complemented each other. "It's a big mismatch. They don't know what to do, whether to get up in him or sag off him. He found the open areas and hit shots. We got a lot from our bench players. They came in and did what they needed to do and gave us a spark. Come in, give your best effort and do what you do."
At 6-8, 215 pounds, West's sheer size is an issue for guards, and his length makes challenging exterior shots difficult even for similar-sized swingmen. Texas tried to use Allen against West, but were forced to mix and match via a series of screens, which either gave West a favorable match-up or popped him open for step-in looks.
"He made a couple threes against us the last time we played them, so we're very aware of him," Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. "He's a good player and that's what he does. He shoots the ball from outside. That one is disappointing because he had 20 points in the first half and really gave them a huge spark. A couple of them were really tough shots we could contest, but a couple of them we didn't do as good of a job."
West figures to continue to see solid time as his game continues to mature, the redshirt freshman's numbers steadily increasing as he has played at least 13 minutes in five of the last six games after reaching that number just six times over the previous 22 contests.
"If you don't have the other stuff down pat, you are not going to play," West said. "You gotta play hard and do what you do. We want to keep playing hard and have good practices and play within ourselves and follow scouting reports and we will be good. I'm decent. I do feel like I have improved. I feel like I have put a lot of time in my game and that it is paying off."
West is averaging 6.4 points per game for the season, but has twice broken out recently in the 20-plus point outings versus Texas and OSU. Still, outside those numbers, he has scored three, six, zero and three points despite increased time, and thus consistency remains a issue. Unless, of course, West can pull of what Brandon Watkins did and convince his mother to move to Morgantown.
"When your mom's in the crowd, you have to play a good game," said Elijah Macon, who lives with Brandon and his mother, Janet. "I told him I saw his mom in the crowd, and he came out with six threes. There you go. I think he's more zoned in. You want to play great in front of your mom. You don't want to be embarrassed. You want to make her proud and I feel like that's his motivation. Lamont's a good guy, but right now he is still learning. He's a hard worker. He's getting better at listening and doing the things he should do in practice. He had to step up for Esa and he did, big time."