Top-ranked Baylor next on slate for WVU men

MORGANTOWN — Six times fans of West Virginia men’s basketball have been treated to a matchup between their beloved Mountaineers (13-2, 2-1 Big 12) and the No. 1 ranked team in the country.

Make that seven when they take on Baylor (15-0, 3-0 Big 12) at 7 p.m. tonight at the Coliseum.

“It (the Big 12) is beginning to get it (the same respect the Big East enjoyed for years),” veteran WVU head coach Bob Huggins explained.

“Last year we faced a No. 1 Kansas team here and saw Oklahoma become the No. 1 team after they beat us.”

The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

UNLV was the first top-ranked ball club to make the trek to Morgantown during the 1983 season.

They were followed by Temple (1988), Massachusetts (1995), Connecticut (1999 and 2006) and the Jayhawks.

The Bears began the season unranked, but climbed up the polls quickly with victories over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville, Xavier and Oklahoma. Prior to this year Baylor’s best ranking was at No. 3 when the Bears won their first 17 contests during the 2011-12 season.

“They’re so long,” continued Huggins. “That’s the biggest thing. It makes that zone good when you can pretty much touch hands across the floor you’re going to cover some ground and they cover a lot of ground.”

Baylor is led by 6-foot-10 junior forward Johnathon Motley, who is averaging 15.4 points per game and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor and grabbing a team-best 42 offensive rebounds. He will be joined in the expected starting lineup by 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil. The native of Melbourne, Australia, has blocked a team-best 52 shots while contributing 10.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

As if those two were not enough, head coach Scott Drew will bring 6-foot-8 Terry Maston off of the bench with his 8.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per game average. Rounding out the starting five will be junior guards Manu Lecomte, a Miami transfer that is averaging 11.8 points and 4.9 assists while making a team-best 26 triples and Al Freeman (11.1 ppg, 25 threes).

“You just can’t simulate that length,” added Huggins, who picked up career win No. 804 when WVU beat TCU on Saturday. “They can make mistakes and compensate for it because of their length. You don’t get anything easy or unchallenged around the rim.”

West Virginia, which dropped to No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll, will counter with a lineup that includes seniors Nathan Adrian (9.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Brandon Watkins (7.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and sophomore Esa Ahmad (12.9 ppg) at the forwards with juniors Jevon Carter (10.5 ppg) and Daxter Miles Jr. (11.1 ppg) at the guards.

Miles is coming off of his second 22-point outburst of the season in the Mountaineers’ 83-73 win over TCU while Carter enters the game ranked No. 4 in the country in steals at 3.1 per outing.

Bench scoring will be important to both teams and West Virginia has been the beneficiary from the play of seniors Tarik Phillips (8.1) and Teyvon Myers (7.9) as well as freshmen Lamont West (6.9) and Sagaba Konate (5.6).

Two other Bears who fans can expect to see throughout the contest will be 6-foot-5 senior guard Isaiah Wainright (5.5) and 6-5 sophomore guard Jake Lindsey (4.8).

“We’ve got to try and do a good job in the full court to try and speed them up,” Huggins said.

West Virginia, which defeated then-No. 1 Kansas by a 74-63 margin last year, owns four wins against top-ranked teams. The others came against North Carolina in Lexington, Kentucky (1957), against Duke in Charleston (1966) and UNLV in Morgantown.

Baylor holds a 7-3 edge in the series, but the Mountaineers captured both games last season – 80-69 in Morgantown and 69-58 in Waco. Miles led the Old Gold and Blue to victory at home with 20 points while Phillip proved to be the sparkplug that helped the team when at Baylor when he came off the bench to score 11 points.

Other notes of interest:

*Baylor is 3-1 against West Virginia in the Coliseum.

*Senior Nathan Adrian ranks No. 20 in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio.

*Junior Daxter Miles Jr. is averaging 16 points per game in Big 12 games.

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