With West Virginia’s 66-63 victory over Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal on Friday, one task remains for the Mountaineers.
It’s easier said than done.
The Mountaineers are headed to the championship game for the third straight year, and seek their first crown. Tipoff Saturday will be at 5 p.m. at the Sprint Center.
The opponent is Kansas, which overcame second-half, double-digit deficits to win both regular-season games against West Virginia.
“We can’t led their runs get to us, we have to weather the storm,” West Virginia senior guard Jevon Carter said. “Just guard, and make everything hard for them.”
That’s what happened in Friday’s victory. West Virginia and Texas Tech, which tied for second this season, battled through a defensive-themed game, and the Mountaineers survived a midcourt three-point heave at the buzzer to avoid overtime.
The stage: Daxter Miles Jr. stood at the line with 6.8 seconds remaining for West Virginia. He had made the first free throw for a three-point lead, but after a Tech timeout missed the second.
The Red Raiders corralled the rebound but took too long to get a decent look. Niem Stevenson wound up with the ball and his shot from just on the other side of midcourt glanced off the rim.
West Virginia had gotten to that point on the strength of big man Sagaba Konate, who had scored the team’s previous six points, and Carter and Miles. They had accounted for most of the second-half scoring until then.
Carter got it going with three-pointers on three straight possessions, turning a 35-35 deadlock into a 44-39 lead.
“I felt like I wasn’t helping my team offensively or defensively,” Carter said. “My teammates do a good job of finding me when I’m open and it’s my job to knock it in.”
Carter then handed the baton to Miles, who also had three triples in the second half. They helped the Mountaineers build a 56-48 lead.
But back came Tech, in a flash. A 9-0 run gave the Red Raiders their first lead of the second half. But Carter answered with a three-point play and West Virginia never surrendered the advantage.
On to the game and the opponent that has frustrated the Mountaineers over the previous two seasons. West Virginia led KU by 12 points with about 9 minutes remaining in Morgantown and lost by five.
In Lawrence, the lead was 12 with about 10 minutes left, and the Jayhawks won by eight. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was ejected in the final seconds and afterward blasted the officiating crew. KU shot 35 free throws to the Mountaineers’ two in the game.
“Score more points than them,” was Huggins’ response when asked about the keys to beating Kansas. “Make another shot, maybe get a free throw, something.”
For Carter and other seniors, the game is the final opportunity for a Big 12 trophy.
“It would mean everything,” Carter said. “In this game of basketball, nobody remembers who comes in second. They only remember winners. This is my last year. I want to go out a winner.”