Stop the presses: New-look West Virginia’s run in the Big 12 Tournament continues with upset of Texas Tech

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The postseason stage was made for Bob Huggins.

It’s just that few thought West Virginia‘s coach and his basement-dwelling team would be around this long to be on it. One of the most miserable seasons in the Huggins’ 37-year head coaching career is still alive.

That’s a good thing for all of college basketball, really, after the Mountaineers upset No. 7 Texas Tech 79-74 in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday.

Well, everyone but the first-place Red Raiders who lost to the last-place Mountaineers. The result was felt by every bubble team in the country as West Virginia became a dangerous bid stealer, improving to 14-19. WVU will face Kansas, a 65-57 winner vs. Texas, in the semfinals Friday.

But how? Why?

On paper, this rivaled the worst season of Huggins’ career — 13-19 with West Virginia 2012-2013.

Since then, he has been to four NCAA Tournaments, including three Sweet 16s.

This season Huggins had lost his top three scorers. Shot blocker and leading scorer Sagaba Konate has played only eight games because of an ankle injury. James Bolden was suspended, then tweeted recently he was entering the transfer portal. Esa Ahmed was dismissed from the team in February.

That didn’t keep a team that on Thursday finally mimicked the Huggins’ teams of old from delivering maybe the biggest shocker of the postseason to date. Texas Tech became the first power conference league champion to go down in a conference tournament.

The result marked the third time a No. 10 seed beat a No. 2 seed in the history of the Big 12 Tournament and the first time since 1998.

“We’re playing to get into the NCAA Tournament is what we’re doing,” Huggins said. “We had a meeting. We sat down and talked about it and this is our chance. Two down, two to go.”

The Mountaineers set up the upset by surviving No. 7 seed Oklahoma 72-71 in the final seconds on Wednesday night. Forward Lamont West immediately took the podium in the postgame and said three times, “We owe them,” in regard to Texas Tech. The Red Raiders won the last meeting by 31. 

After Thursday’s result, West said, “Everybody beat us. We owe everybody.”

As this season ground to a crawl, the answers were few. There were two five-game losing streaks. Six of the 19 losses were by at least 15 points.

The Mountaineers had lost their brand, “Press Virginia,” a team that once guarded every inch of 94 feet. With the loss of one of the all-time great Mountaineers, guard Jevon Carter, the team lost its identity.

“It’s a culture thing,” point guard Jordan McCabe said. “We talked about it in the beginning of the season when we were going through the roughest patch that this program has gone through. We have to change the culture.

“The coaches can’t want it more than we do.”

It was a rag-tag bunch that rushed out to a 28-11 lead Thursday night and hung on. Texas Tech came all the way back to lead 69-68 with 2 ½ minutes left.

If there was a time for Texas Tech to rest on its first conference championship in 23 years, this appeared to be it. West Virginia – which had lost the two regular-season meetings by a combined 34 points – outrebounded Tech 44-30.

“The story today is all about West Virginia,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “Give the credit … In no way did we take them lightly. They have a hall of fame coach and really good players.”

West Virginia freshman Emmitt Washington Jr., a forward who had never scored more than 13 points, doubled that with his career high 28. He had been averaging 3.9 points.

Before coming to West Virginia, McCabe was most famous for being a YouTube sensation in his youth as a trick dribbler nicknamed “White Chocolate.” He wanted to get away from that in college.

“At the beginning of the season I remember [the coaches] saying, ‘Stop asking questions. Go ahead and play,’ McCabe said. “We were brought here for reasons you can’t teach.”

Huggins’ wit was in shape, for sure. Before the game he tweeted out an old video from his Cincinnati days. Huggins is shown emerging from a coffin saying, “We’re not dead yet.”

That might as well be the Mountaineers mantra heading into the semifinals.

“I don’t appreciate people counting us out,” West said.

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