KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The rest of college basketball should consider themselves as warned.
If West Virginia continues playing like it did Thursday night in a systematic 78-65 victory over Baylor, the Mountaineers have a good chance to make a long March run.
Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” forced Baylor into a season-worst 22 turnovers.
Esa Ahmad went for a season-best 21 points and added 8 rebounds. Daxter Miles Jr. tossed in 19 points including 5 3-pointers. Jevon Carter posted a workman-like double-double with 18 points and 11 assists, along with 6 steals.
Baylor players wearily described the struggle of facing West Virginia’s press for an entire game.
“It’s a great press,” Baylor guard Manu Lecomte. “They turned us over 22 times. The coaches put up a great game plan and I know we made a lot of mistakes.”
The cumulative effect is what makes West Virginia difficult, according to Baylor forward Terry Maston.
“I think fatigue and frustration sets in, especially when you start to turn it over a lot,” Maston said.
West Virginia press wears down opponents
Huggins credited the press with wearing down the Bears much like a boxer in the late rounds of a title fight.
“It’s a cumulative effect,” Huggins said. “We had one stretch where we got the ball three times in a row. That’s when we were able to open the game up a little bit and that’s what we hope it does for us.”
The Mountaineers took control with a 20-5 run to end the first half. Baylor helped them along with one field goal during a stretch of 8 minutes, 46 seconds with 7 turnovers to boot.
Carter’s shot from about 60 feet at the halftime buzzer gave the Mountaineers 29-23 lead at the break.
And back-to-back threes by Miles during a 13-second span early in the second half pushed the lead to 13 points and punctuated a 11-0 spurt in 99 seconds.
Esa Ahmad makes West Virginia special
But the biggest breakthrough was the play of Ahmad, who contributed a strong two-way game with three steals in the press.
West Virginia played strongly with barely a contribution from sophomore forward Sagaba Konate.
The Mountaineers got only 18 minutes from Konate, who battled foul trouble most of the game. He was limited to 2 points and 6 rebounds. His night was best shown when he missed a late two-handed dunk that left Huggins muttering for a couple of minutes along the bench.
But it didn’t matter much because of the lift that West Virginia received from Ahmad.
Drew said Ahmad appears to be getting in shape. And when that happens, the Mountaineers can play with anybody in the nation.
“Esa Ahmad was tremendous tonight,” Drew said. “When he first came back, he looked a little heavy, a little slow. But right now, he’s playing like he was last year. And because of that, I think think their team is better than it was at the start of the year.”
Considering that the Mountaineers ran off 15 straight victories and soared as high as No. 2 nationally, the rest of the country should take note.
Top-four seed awaits with fast Big 12 finish
The Mountaineers can likely claim a top-four seed if they can make the championship game. They’ve never won the Big 12, but have made the championship season two previous season.
This team appears to be playing as well in March as any of Huggins’ teams since his 2010 team made the Final Four.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if this team makes its way all the way to San Antonio.
Especially, if it can hit opposing teams with the balance that was shown on Thursday night.
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