WVU Sports with Mike Casazza

Big 12 final: (4) Iowa State 80, (2) WVU 74

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West Virginia played its 34th game Saturday evening, and truth be told, it wasn’t unlike a lot of the ones before it — with one exception. That was the only game the Mountaineers didn’t lead in the second half, which seems minor but also sort of amazing.

When they were good, they were good. When they strayed and didn’t play as hard or as cohesively as they had when they were good, they struggled. There was just enough of the former to neutralize the latter, but even if the margins were smaller, Iowa State played very well, doing what it does and also doing what the Mountaineers do.

Undersized and outscored 34-18 and 40-12 in the paint in two losses to WVU this season, the Cyclones had an 18-14 edge in Saturday’s the first half. They avoided WVU’s pressure defense by outscoring the Mountaineers 11-0 in fast-break points, though WVU certainly helped. All 10 of its first-half turnovers were steals by Iowa State, and many were bad passes or bad decisions by the Mountaineers.

“We turned it over, and you look at the categories that generally we’re very good at — they got 14 second-chance points to our 10. That’s usually in our favor by a bunch,” Huggins said. “Points off turnovers. We got 15, they got 14. We hang our hat on turning people over and rebounding the ball, and we got outrebounded. We’ve got to get more shots. You saw us [for] three days. We don’t shoot the ball very well.”

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Big 12 final: (2) WVU v. (4) Iowa State

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You are looking live at the site of tonight’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship championship game. Let’s talk about points, because the hunch is West Virginia better bring 30 more to this game than it brought to the last game. Perhaps they’ve been on ice. Either way, the 51 points last night was the second-lowest ever scored by a winning team in this event. Oddly enough, Oklahoma scored 49 in the 2003 final and beat Missouri by two.

Three-game point totals for championship teams (beginning last year): 236, 206, 259, 249, 259, 238, 231, 211, 225, 221, 222, 237, 230, 190, 194, 183, 214, 194, 230 and 233. Through two games, the Mountaineers have 114. If they win and score fewer than 69 or less, they’ll set the record for fewest points by a champion. If Iowa State wins and scores 84 or more points, that’s the record for most by a champion. (Every champion has won three games.)

 

As for everything else on the floor, Esa Ahmad starts again, and your officials are John Higgins, Joe DeRosa and Doug Sirmons. Kipp Kissinger is the alternate.

Ordinary Sprint Center WiFi expectations for this one. Be on your best and most active behavior, please.

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Who and what is on the line?

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Iowa State and West Virginia are both 8-2 in their last 10, and they’re both familiar with tonight’s stage. This is the third title game for the Cyclones in four seasons. They won the first two. The Mountaineers were here last season and lost, and they sat on the court and felt the confetti fall on them while knowing it was for Kansas — freaking Kansas — and not for them.

“It was a little bit of respect. They won the game. But it was also so we could feel that feeling again,” Tarik Phillip said. “I knew we were going to end up back here again.”

Clairvoyant!

There is on obvious and perhaps ominous reality. Iowa State is on an offensive tear: 65, 80, 87, 84, 82, 72, 86, 76, 92 and 84 points, the last two coming here. WVU is not: 61, 85, 80, 83, 77, 61, 62, 87, 63 and 51, the last two coming here. The momentum really couldn’t be more different coming into the final except that they’re both 2-0.

In WVU’s world, that’s all that counts.

“Doesn’t matter at all,” Nate Adrian said. “That’s two completely different games and styles, and it’s going to be different again (tonight).”

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Whew. I don’t want to force parallels on you — and honestly, this wasn’t my intent when it started — but I used to think West Virginia going bonkers from 3-point range in the first half of the Elite Eight game against Kentucky was the oddest thing. (Then came 70-33, so now it’s merely the oddest basketball thing.) That, of course, was in … 2010. I might have to move it aside, because that first half last night, for a wholly different reason, was the oddest thing.

And yet the Mountaineers are playing for the conference title tonight and can win their first crown since … 2010. Seven years ago today, Da’Sean Butler called bank, and WVU beat Cincinnati to start its run in the Big East tournament and then to the Final Four.

More to the point, though, is the fact WVU is getting in the mud and still winning. This isn’t a just-this-week thing. It might not sustain. The good news, I guess, is here comes Iowa State, and the Cyclones seem to bring the best out of the Mountaineers.

They better.

“We’re going to have to score more than 51 probably,” Coach Bob Huggins said.

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Big 12 semifinals: (2) WVU v. (6) Kansas State

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You are looking live at what is certainly the team’s mantra for this postseason. Those are Jevon Carter’s words, but everyone in the locker room last night said something to that effect about the tournament, about Kansas being eliminated, about NCAA seeding, so on and so forth. It’s a prolonged synonym for, “Do what you do.” This is the light that will lead West Virginia as far as it goes.

Tonight, it takes the Mountaineers, ranked No. 11 nationally and seeded No. 2 here, into the semifinal and again into a tournament game against the team they did not anticipate playing. It’s Kansas State, 5-8 in its past 13 games but on a three-game winning streak. The No. 6 seed surprised the No. 3 seed, Baylor, in Thursday’s late quarterfinal.

WVU and K-State have met twice, and there’s a distinction to each game. WVU’s loss in Manhattan, Kansas, was one of the three times WVU lost a game it led by double digits. WVU’s win at the Coliseum a few weeks later was by 19 points. That was the second-best margin of defeat in conference play, trailing the 21-point win the Mountaineers earned at home against then-No. 1 Baylor.

Two keys — and they couldn’t be more disparate:

  1. Paint points: WVU was outscored 40-28 in the paint in the Octagon of Doom and then outscored K-State 50-18 at the Coliseum. There’s an asterisk in there. D.J. Johnson, K-State’s 6-foot-8, 250-pound presence, played in the first game and missed the second game. The Mountaineers were determined to make layups and 1-footers, but they also kept the Wildcats from scoring on and after drives. Wes Iwundu and Kam Stokes can get inside, and in addition to Johnson, Isaiah Maurice can catch and score inside.
  2. 3-point points: WVU only took 12 3-point shots in the Johnson-less game. Lowest total of the season, so that’s not the norm and probably not the way to go. Or is it? WVU took 13 last night, and that’s maybe a trend? Since shooting 24 in back-to-back games, the Mountaineers have now shot 14, 15, 19 and 13 in the past four games. K-State’s not a prolific 3-point team (10 or more makes just four times in 32 games, ranks of No. 182 in makes, No. 227 in attempts and No. 112 in accuracy), but Barry Brown was 4-for-4 last night and Dean Wade is due. If WVU can get inside, that opens the outside. The offense, when it was working last night, moved the ball with the dribble and the pass, and that created open shots for, among others, Jevon Carter, who seems to like this building and has made 16 of his 32 3-point attempts here.

And that’s about all the previewing for this one. Certainly, there are other areas on which to focus. We’ve got some time, so I’m nevertheless curious what you’d circle and track tonight.

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What’s your pick?

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If you need further assistance, here’s a preview podcast. We taped this last night, and I did a radio interview before this. It was live and required the present tense. I did not take appropriate measures for this cameo with Dan Zangrilli to account for events that would transpire between the recording and the publication. That explains some of the Baylor language that might not make sense as you listen. Anything else that doesn’t make sense, that’s me mumbling or rambling.

The dunks stop here

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One thing we have to remember about Sagaba Konate is that this is all new to him. Yeah, he’s a freshman and this is his first March, but what is Madness in Mali? He’s been in the United States for three years now.

“I think the difference is Coach Huggs always tells us to play hard. This is the tournament. It’s one and done,” Konate said after his first postseason game. “We’ve got get a good seed for the NCAA tournament.”

He has a basic understanding, and just as sure, his debut was promising for the Mountaineers. It was assertive, controlled and a bit vengeful. The last time Konate saw Texas, he was involved in the “dunk of the year.”

He didn’t care, but he didn’t forget.

“I said after last time at home, ‘Next time, I’ve got to catch him,'” Konate said.

 

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‘I know I can improve.’

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“There’s going to be one game,” Tarik Phillip said from a seat in front of his locker Thursday night, “when y’all are like, ‘Oh, man, Esa’s back, and that’s bad news for everybody.'”

But what about Esa’s back, the one that was injured and kept him out of three games?

“I’m feeling good,” Ahmad said after making one basket and one free throw in 16 minutes against Texas. “It’s a lot better.”

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So, here come the Wildcats

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Kansas losing, TCU surging and Monte Morris whispering in a triple-double’s ear are your subplots at what is now a there-for-the-taking Big 12 tournament. West Virginia is the favorite now — technically, WVU remains the favorite — but all of that overlooks this: Kansas State is still standing.

Does that need a question mark?

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So the Sprint Center WiFi was what we thought it was, and it abandoned me in the second half. I have many feelings, theories and, of course, solutions. I will not divulge them here. Fortunately, I and we didn’t miss much in the second half. West Virginia, ranked 11th and seeded No. 2, did its most and best damage in the first half. I thought the run to close the first 20 minutes was telling. The start of the second half saw the lead balloon and shrink, but it never felt like Texas would find the surge for which it was looking.

The Mountaineers emerged from a muddy finish with a spot in the semifinals against … Kansas State. As expected, the Big 12’s Final Four is Iowa State, TCU, WVU and K-State. We’ll talk more today about the Mountaineers and about the matchup with K-State, but for now let’s talk about last night.

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