KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Texas wanted a win. West Virginia needed one. But in the end, desire proved more bountiful than survivor’s instinct.
The Longhorns blitzed the Mountaineers from the get-go in a 66-49 win, knocking West Virginia out of the Big 12 tournament and popping its NCAA bubble in the process. A 20-4 run to open the game set the tone early, and Texas stayed on the gas, never allowing the Mountaineers to crawl within double-digits.
“We just wanted to get back to being aggressive and attacking from the very beginning,” sophomore guard Javan Felix said. “I think we did a good job of that at the start of the game and kind of carried over throughout the game.”
West Virginia (17-15, 9-10 Big 12) began the game frazzled and timid from the floor, starting 1-for-16 with many of the shots coming in one-on-one situations before the shot clock expired. Juwan Staten, the Big 12’s leading scorer, mustered only four points on 1-for-11 shooting as chants of “air ball” from the Longhorn Band serenaded him the entire night.
“We know how good of a player and how quick he is,” freshman guard Kendall Yancy said. “We just backed off of him and took away his strength, which is driving.”
Texas’ aggressive zone defense stifled a Mountaineer attack, which had sizzled to the tune of 92 points in an upset win over Kansas last Saturday. That win sparked the Mountaineers’ tournament chances, but the wind created from West Virginia missing 70 percent of its shots eliminated the flame quickly.
“They've got a long back line in the zone, and they deflected a lot of passes,” West Virginia guard Terry Henderson said. “We did a poor job of squaring up and really looking at the floor before we threw the ball. I think we waited too late to try and flash in the middle to get some easy shots or some easy ball movement.
The Longhorns (23-9, 11-7 Big 12) looked nothing like the team they had been over the past few weeks. Entering the game Texas had lost five straight road games and dropped four out of its last seven contests. A young Longhorn team appeared to be in an underclassman slump, but it awoke at the correct time for tournament play.
Early in the season the Longhorns’ big lead would have been fragile, but they did a great job of keeping their composure whenever West Virginia made a mini run. Freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor termed the performance “the first time” this season the Longhorns had a sizable lead and didn’t surrender it later in the game.
“It showed that we are tough. And we are resilient. And we can hold them off in the second half,” Taylor said.
The Longhorns were paced by junior forward Jonathan Holmes with 20 points and sophomore guard Javan Felix added 16. Felix, the Longhorns’ most dangerous outside threat, seemed to find his shooting touch after failing to eclipse seven points in four of his last five games.
Felix, who has never be described as a hesitant shooter, worked to find open space on the outside, darting in and out of lanes and always seemed to find space in the corner.
The victory propels Texas into the semifinals for a matchup with Baylor, but more importantly, it creates a much needed momentum for a team that had struggled the past few weeks.
“If we don’t win away from home our season will be over,” Holmes said. “We only have two more guaranteed games, if we don’t have momentum moving forward our season will be over pretty soon.”
Tipoff is at 8:30 p.m. CST and will be shown on ESPNU.