West Virginia is starting to get the hang of the Big 12 Tournament.
In their first three years in the league, the Mountaineers’ trips to the Sprint Center were quickies. One loss and back on the airplane.
But for the second straight season, West Virginia advances. The second-seeded Mountaineers defeated No. 10-seed Texas 63-53 on Thursday in the quarterfinals.
West Virginia (25-7) will meet the Kansas State in the semifinals.
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By seed, the Mountaineers became the tournament favorite before taking the floor. Earlier in the day, top-seeded Kansas was upset by TCU.
Last season, West Virginia reached the championship game before falling to the Jayhawks. The Mountaineers seek their first conference tournament title since winning the Big East in 2010, a season that ended in the Final Four for West Virginia.
With Kansas out, does West Virginia feel like a favorite?
“Honestly, we don’t really pay too much attention to what other teams are doing,” guard Jevon Carter said. “It’s about us. You can’t play the next game until you win the current game, so that was the message to the team.”
The Mountaineers swept the season series from Texas, but won by only a basket in Austin. A key, said forward Elijah Macon, is containing the Longhorns’ bigs, especially freshman Jarrett Allen. Texas succeeds when its frontline plays well on both ends.
“Once you get inside you have to pump fake those guys,” Macon said. “You can’t just go in and shoot a layup. They’re going to get a lot of blocks.”
Texas swatted eight shots on Thursday, but Allen finished with only nine points on 4-of-10 shooting.
West Virginia used a familiar formula, a pressure defense to bother an average-shooting and turnover-prone team. Texas never seemed comfortable attacking the Mountaineers.
Defense accounted for the game’s biggest sequence. After a Macon jumper pushed the Mountaineers’ lead to 54-46, Nathan Adrian swiped the inbounds pass, somehow stayed inbounds in front of the West Virginia bench, and found Carter open at the top of the key.
Carter buried a three-pointer for a double digit lead with 6:34 remaining.
“We did a good job on the press,” Carter said. “Nate did what he does .He came up with the steal, saved it to me, I noticed I was wide open and just shot it in.”
Carter led West Virginia with 21 points.
Texas coach Shaka Smart didn’t believe the Mountaineers defense bothered shots as much as the Longhorns’ offensive rhythm.
“I don’t think it was affecting our shooting percentage as it was affecting our flow of what we were trying to do,” Smart said.
The Longhorns arrived at the quarterfinal round by defeating Texas Tech in the first round on Wednesday. Texas erased an 11-point deficit in the final 10 minutes to collect its first Big 12 Tournament victory in three years.
But Thursday after closing to 50-46 on Kendal Yancy’s three-pointer with 8:30 remaining, Texas never got close and finished its season at 11-22.
West Virginia was the early aggressor, grabbing a 10-point lead in the first five minutes. But the Longhorns battled back and took a 23-22 lead on a three-pointer by Eric Davis Jr. with 8:44 remaining in the first half. The final three minutes belonged to the Mountaineers, who ended the half on a 10-1 run with Carter supplying half of the production.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins wasn’t thrilled with how his team performed, but after coming up empty in his first three years in Kansas City, he’ll gladly take the outcome.
“We obviously didn’t play very well today,” Huggins said. “(But) they’ve been a good ground to coach because they do want to win.”