Is this the year WVU cuts through the Phog?

Gold and Blue Nation

Big 12 basketball is always a gauntlet -- and WVU will perform with Kansas on the league's toughest stage

WVU men’s basketball has faced its fair share of hostile environments, and many have given the Mountaineers some trouble — but none more than Kansas’s Allen Fieldhouse.

Some of the most historic venues in college basketball have given the Mountaineers fits — they have yet to earn a victory at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium in eight tries, and despite a lengthy rivalry with Syracuse in the Big East era, they took just three wins in the Carrier Dome (but just one as the road team).

“The Phog” in Lawrence, Kansas has presented a special challenge for West Virginia. Bob Huggins has led WVU into the storied arena nine times since 2013, only to return to Morgantown with a loss each instance. They make their 10th trek to Kansas on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, hoping to surmount the ninth-ranked Jayhawks on their home court for the first time in history live on CBS.

Outside of Lawrence, the Jayhawks have been very beatable for the Mountaineers. Although Kansas owns the all-time series 15-6, it has struggled in Morgantown, falling six of nine times at the WVU Coliseum.

Still, the ultimate variable in the series record has been the Jayhawks’ home court — one of the best advantages in American sports since its opening in 1955.

“It’s an older, unique building. You don’t get to play in places like that very often,” Huggins said. “There’s not a whole lot of buildings like that, or as preserved as what Allen Fieldhouse is.”

WVU has come rather close to getting past the obstacle that is the Phog. Five of WVU’s 10 defeats have come by 10 points or fewer, and two have gone to overtime. In 2017, the Mountaineers had one final chance at a game-winner after squandering a five-point lead in the final 40 seconds of regulation — they missed it, and Kansas went on to win in OT.

“We’ve had our chances,” Huggins said. “We’ve played pretty well there at times, and you know, things have a way of happening.”

West Virginia heads to Lawrence as double-digit underdogs, despite showing some true promise in its last two showings. Simultaneously, Bill Self’s Jayhawks have been proven vincible, taking a loss to Texas Tech and narrowly surviving Iowa State at home.

Here are the biggest storylines heading into this weekend’s matchup:

The hard-nosed Mountaineers are back

Although the stats don’t quite show it, WVU has established itself once again as one of the tougher defensive teams in the Big 12. It all came together Tuesday against Oklahoma State, as WVU snatched 17 turnovers from the Cowboys in the win.

The real difference in this WVU team, however, comes around the rim. West Virginia leads the league with 5.53 blocked shots per game, and they’re rejecting Big 12 opponents at a rate of 6.67 per contest. This is a team effort, with forwards Dimon Carrigan, Isaiah Cottrell and Jalen Bridges all chipping in at least one every trip.

“We have more guys that can and do influence shots, and that without a question was what we thought was a need,” “And the first guy that we went to get was [Carrigan], I mean after all, he was the leading shot-blocker in the country.”

Answering Agbaji

WVU’s Taz Sherman was the Big 12’s leading scorer until this weekend, when KU’s Ochai Agbaji usurped him over the weekend after a pair of 20-plus point games.

Agbaji, a senior guard, has long been one of the biggest scoring threats in the Big 12. The Kansas City, Mo. native is in this third straight year as a double-figure scorer at KU, and his second as the team’s leader in points.

This year is a little different for him in Lawrence, as he spearheads the best offense in the league. Plus, he’s making his three-pointers at a rate unmatched by anyone else in the Big 12 — an eye-popping 47.5 percent.

“I think he’s probably using his athleticism probably a little bit more,” Huggins said. “He’s a heck of an athlete and I think he’s got a little more versatility.”

Who will score for WVU?

Although he has been the most consistent scorer for West Virginia, Huggins says Sherman is unconcerned with boosting his own numbers.

“He and Gabe [Osabuohien] are unquestionably our leaders,” Huggins said. “You’re not a good leader if you’re selfish, and he most certainly is not that. He just wants to win.”

WVU has had issues finding other sources of offense this season, though. Sean McNeil, who averages 14.6 per game, has offered some more consistent points for the Mountaineers, but it is spotty beyond the starting backcourt.

Their recent home stand has provided some hope. Jalen Bridges led the Mountaineers against Oklahoma State with 22 points to tie a career-high. That was just his fourth double-digit scoring outing in 15 starts this year, but his second in three games of Big 12 play. Even Osabuohien — who is largely known for his play on the defensive end — turned heads with 12 points against the Cowboys, including a perfect performance from the charity stripe.

WVU at Kansas game information

Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. ET on CBS. Saturday starts with an all-new episode of The Bob Huggins Show, which airs on West Virginia Nexstar stations at 9 a.m. ET. That is followed by a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay, the most fun pregame show in West Virginia, at 10 a.m. ET on both West Virginia Nexstar stations and AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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