The win marked the first time WVU has won its first two conference games of the season since Bob Huggins’ Final Four team did it during the 2009-10 season, and it’s a start that is quite different from the one it had a year ago in its first season in the Big 12.
That conference season began with a loss to Oklahoma in which the Mountaineers blew a double-digit lead in the second half before coming from behind to win on the road against Texas. From there, no matter how many chances they had over the course of the remainder of the season, they were never able to pick up enough momentum to turn things around as their season quickly spiraled out of control – finishing with a 6-12 record in league play.
Fast forward to this weekend as West Virginia, improved and starting to gain more confidence as it finds its identity as a team, made its way to Texas to square off with TCU and Texas Tech for its first two Big 12 games of the season – coming away with two close, hard-fought victories to kick off conference play.
Were they signature wins? No, not at all.
But, even though those two teams aren’t among the best in the conference, the Mountaineers were able to pick up more wins and give some more proof that this group is continuing to get better as the season goes along. For a team that hadn’t been able to win close games, the Mountaineers had to do just that in both of these games – and they were able to do it. It wasn’t pretty. WVU almost blew a X-point lead to the Red Raiders, who surged back to force overtime, but in the end West Virginia was able to lean on its leaders to help pick up a win.
That’s one of the things WVU couldn’t do a year ago. West Virginia struggled to find a go-to person when the game was on the line. But with Juwan Staten and Eron Harris leading the way, and with guys like Devin Williams and Terry Henderson filling their roles and doing what this team needs to do, things appear to be moving in the right direction compared to where they struggled a year ago.
And now that they’ve started to figure out the formula for doing better, the Mountaineers have to do something else they weren’t able to do last year.
For the first time since the beginning of February last year, WVU has a two-game winning streak against Big 12 opponents. It’s starting to gain a little bit of momentum and some much-needed confidence – now it has to show it can come out and beat a team that it shouldn’t win against.
There are plenty of chances to do that soon, starting Saturday when No. 11 Oklahoma State travels into Morgantown.
It’s the start of a stretch of three interesting games with home dates against the Cowboys and Texas before hitting the road Jan. 18 to take on Kansas State. All three will be extremely challenging games, but are matchups that - if a few things here and there bounce in the Mountaineers' favor - could go a long way in giving this young team more confidence as it hits its stride in conference play heading toward March.
West Virginia has put itself in a difficult position where it needs to win games. It needs to build up confidence and get on a role.
They won't look too attractive to postseason tournaments just by beating up on the likes of TCU, Texas Tech and the non-conference victories it had earlier this season. There have to be times when this team proves it can sneak up on a team that is better or on the same level and win close games.
That will be a lot easier to do if the Mountaineers can build off the positives from Saturday and keep some more momentum going.