West Virginia men’s hoops is heading to snowy Texas for a trio of games in the Lone Star State — and it all gets started in Austin as they shoot for redemption against the 12th-ranked Longhorns. The contest gets started at 3 p.m. ET on ABC.
After taking on Texas (13-5, 7-4 Big 12), the No. 13 Mountaineers head to Fort Worth on Monday and Waco on Wednesday to face TCU and Baylor — the latter matchup of which has been long-awaited after multiple postponements. With three road games in six days during a historic winter storm in the state, this presents a unique challenge that could be unprecedented for the Mountaineers.
“It’s a little bit reminiscent I think of us taking the bus to Buffalo because we couldn’t fly in a few years ago in the NCAA Tournament,” said coach Bob Huggins.
With a lot of concerns surrounding this trip, the Mountaineers start this trip in the state’s capital with revenge on their mind. WVU first clashed with then-No. 4 Texas in Morgantown on Jan. 9, with the Longhorns taking a victory in the final second to win 72-70. It was a close game, but the still-adjusting Mountaineers had a tough time stopping Texas’s inside game in the second half — with guard Andrew Jones sinking a three-pointer with a second left on the clock to go up by two.
In the time since, West Virginia has begun to hit a stride with its new roster. Texas, on the other hand, has hit some road bumps — but it doesn’t appear that coach Shaka Smart has wanted to make a lot of changes.
“I think Shaka’s got seemingly a lot more confidence in his bench,” Huggins said. “He’s playing his bench I think a lot more than at that point in time, but I think we all are.”
Smart has mostly maintained the same starting five of Jones, Courtney Ramey, Jericho Sims, Greg Brown and Matt Coleman III, and Huggins is right that the Longhorn bench has seen an uptick in minutes through February — but the bulk of production comes from the starters.
For West Virginia, strong play from its backcourt has been a continuing trend since the New Year, and the Mountaineers have continually found their shooting stroke as they grow into their new scheme. Four Mountaineers are averaging double-digits in scoring, three of whom are guards — Miles McBride (16.2 points per game), Taz Sherman (12.6) and Sean McNeil (11.6).
McNeil had an explosive week on the stats sheet over WVU’s last two games, averaging 23.5 points, with a 58.8-percent clip from three-point range. Many of those buckets came at crucial points for his team, as they defeated Texas Tech on the road and fell in double-overtime to Oklahoma a few days later.
McNeil is just one of several guys who are finding a rhythm late in the season, and it has helped even the inside players like Derek Culver put points on the board.
“[Jalen Bridges] has been terrific,” Huggins said. “There’s another guy who can stretch the floor, he gives Derek more room to operate in the post. We can surround the line with guys who can make shots. [The three-point ball] has been a very integral part of what we do, but it’s personnel-dictated.”
WVU’s road trip opens against the Longhorns on network ABC at 2 p.m. ET.