West Virginia played less like a team that finished last in the Big 12 and more like the one that reached the Big 12 Tournament title game the previous three years.
Who knows? Another effort like the one on Friday in their stunning 79-74 triumph over seventh-ranked Texas Tech, and the Mountaineers could make it four straight.
Win the fourth one and West Virginia, which improved to 14-19, would be an improbable NCAA Tournament team. That was on the team’s mind on its way to Kansas City.
“We’re playing to get into the NCAA Tournament,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “We had a team meeting, we sat down and talked about it. This is our chance.
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“That’s two down and two to go.”
The upset stands with the biggest in Big 12 tourney history. It marked the third time a No. 10 seed beat a No. 2 seed, and the previous occasions were in the first two years of the event.
West Virginia had to hold on late in this one. The Mountaineers led by 16 with about 8 1/2 minutes remaining. But Tech rallied and took the lead with two minutes left.
The teams traded big moments on the final possessions. A three-point play by Jermaine Haley with 27 seconds left gave West Virginia a 75-71 lead. Tech’s Jarrett Culver answered with his own three-point play 4 seconds later.
Jordan McCabe’s two free throws with 19.5 seconds remaining restored a 77-74 lead, and Culver, the Big 12 player of the year, missed a deep three-point attempt that sealed the upset.
West Virginia will meet the Kansas-Texas winner in a semifinal game that will tip around 8:30 p.m. Friday.
The Mountaineers set the early tone, playing to their strength, defense and rebounding. They challenged every shot, forced several bad ones, and when shots missed, West Virginia went hard to the boards.
The rebounding advantage at different points for West Virginia: 12-3, 19-4, 22-5 and 26-11 at the the half. The final margin: 44-30.
“Our game plan was to try and rebound with them,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “We wanted to be competitive on the boards and make it a low turnover game. We did neither.”
West Virginia led by as many as 17 in the first half. Tech cut the margin to four later in the half, but the Mountaineers finished with a five-point flurry from Emmitt Matthews, Jr., who finished with 28 points.
West Virginia, which defeated Oklahoma in the first round on Wednesday, didn’t play like a team playing its second game in less than 24 hours. The Mountaineers were the more energetic team.
“This game was about West Virginia,” Beard said.
Culver, who was recognized for winning Big 12 Player of the Year in a brief pregame ceremony, led Tech with 26 points. But he worked hard for his production, and West Virginia did a superb job shutting down the rest of the Red Raiders.
“I thought our guys were really looking forward to playing this game,” Huggins said.