By Ryan Decker, Originally written for West Virginia Illustrated
Just five games remain in college basketball’s regular season for No. 9 West Virginia (20-6, 8-5), which will try to avenge a loss from early January this Saturday when the Mountaineers host Texas Tech (17-9, 5-8) in the Coliseum.
Letting a lead slip away is how the Red Raiders nearly lost to the Mountaineers in the two teams’ first meeting in Lubbock, and is what Press Virginia will look to avoid having happen to it this time around.
Head coach Bob Huggins reportedly gave his team both Tuesday and Wednesday off following Monday’s loss in order to rest up for what could become another close ballgame on Saturday.
Both Texas Tech and West Virginia have mainly played close, tightly contested games over their past five contests. Each of the two teams have also struggled in those close games.
The Red Raiders are 6-7 in games decided by seven points or less, and the Mountaineers are just 2-6 in such contests.
WVU has also played three of its last five games on the road, but Saturday’s game begins a two-game home stand, which will cut down on some of the tough travel schedule that Huggins has talked about recently.
The Red Raiders have not faired well on the road at all this season, having won just one of their seven road games, and losing by an average of seven points per. They have also never won in the Coliseum since WVU joined the Big 12, with each of the last two meetings in Morgantown resulting in lopsided victories for West Virginia.
Texas Tech does have one of the more improved guards in the Big 12 in Kennan Evans and has benefitted from the emergence of Niem Stevenson. Evans tallied 12 points before fouling out in the two teams’ previous meeting this year, and is TTU’s leading scorer at 15.2 points per game.
Stevenson scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the January 3 meeting.
It’s Zach Smith, arguably Chris Beard’s most well rounded player, that will be the player to keep an eye out for. Smith is Texas Tech’s second-leading scorer (13.2 ppg) and leading rebounder (7.6 rpg).
West Virginia, currently projected to be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, is going to have to start a string of wins Saturday if it wants to improve its seeding, as well as to take some momentum with it into the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
Esa Ahmad, Jevon Carter, and Nathan Adrian continue to pace the Mountaineers in points, rebounds assists and steals per game.
Tip off between Texas Tech and West Virginia Saturday is scheduled for 2 p.m. The game has been announced as a sellout, so if you don’t have a ticket to the game, you can watch it on ESPN2.