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WVU Set For Big 12 Opener

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia (8-4) opens the Big 12 Conference portion of its men’s basketball schedule with a team the Mountaineers have enjoyed great success against since joining the league in 2012 — Texas Tech.

WVU has beaten the Red Raiders in 12 of their 15 meetings. This No. 11 ranked Texas Tech squad (11-1), though, rolled through the non-conference portion of its schedule tasting defeat once — a 69-58 setback at the hands of Duke at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20.

Conversely, WVU coach Bob Huggins has watched his Mountaineers struggle to find its offense at times, struggle to be the ‘Press’ Virginia team so many fans have come to love and struggle to keep its players healthy.

“We have spent an enormous amount of time on it,” Huggins said. “Our turnovers and bad shots are coming from forcing things and not taking what we have. I think we have enough guys that if we can ever get them to just do what they can do and what they’re good at doing instead of trying to be somebody they’re not, I think we’d be a pretty good team.

“But it’s been a fist fight to get them to do that.”

Making matters worse for the Mountaineers will be the absence of preseason All-Big 12 first-team selection Sagaba Konate, who is expected to miss the next four weeks recovering from a surgically repaired knee that has yet to heal completely.

“They have good players and a Hall of Fame coach,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “With the conference season it’s back to 0-0. That’s what I’m trying to get the guys to understand. Everything you’ve done to this point is basically just for preparation.

“It’s 0-0 Texas Tech at 0-0 West Virginia. Teams that may not have played their best have a new beginning. It’s unique to college basketball with (today) being a new opportunity for all of us.”

Beard, who has posted a 56-25 mark in his third season at the helm but is still looking for his first win in Morgantown, will have senior Matt Mooney (10.4 ppg) and sophomore Davide Moretti (8.4 ppg) at the guards with senior Tariq Owens (8.4 ppg) and sophomores Deshawn Corprew (7.4 ppg) and Jarrett Culver (19.6 ppg) at the forwards.

WVU will have a Culver of its own on the court as true freshman Derek Culver is coming off his first career double-double, finishing with 11 points and just as many rebounds in a 10-point victory over Lehigh on Sunday.

“We just have to get him to understand,” Huggins said. “He made one (dumb) play where the guy had no chance to make the shot and he put his hands down and smacked him across the arms. We’ve just got to get him to be a little more, sound.”

In all likelihood Huggins will go with a starting five that will include two Marshall County players — Moundsville’s Chase Harler (6.3 ppg) at guard and Cameron’s Logan Routt (3.5 ppg) at forward — along with senior Esa Ahmad (14.3 ppg) and junior Wesley Harris (9.6 ppg) at the forwards and freshman Jordan McCabe (3.0 ppg) joining Harler in the backcourt.

But that lineup could change if junior James ‘Beetle’ Bolden (11.5 ppg), who is coming off a 22-point performance against Lehigh, is healthy or if redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper (5.3 ppg) has a better week of practice than McCabe at the point.

Junior Lamont West (10.8 ppg), Culver (7.5 ppg), freshman Emmitt Matthews Jr. (2.9 ppg), sophomore Andrew Gordon (2.7 ppg) and junior Jermaine Haley (2.6 ppg) will also see time on the court.

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