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WVU, Baylor Meet In Search of Win

No. 5 Bears have lost two in a row after 15-0 start

West Virginia guard Malik Curry (10) lays the ball up against Kansas forward David McCormack (33) and Ochai Agbaji (30) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

MORGANTOWN — Two teams desperately searching for a win will meet at the WVU Coliseum today.

On one side of the floor is West Virginia, looking to bounce back after a 26-point drubbing at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks. The other is the now-No. 5 ranked Baylor Bears, who fell from the No. 1 ranking after two consecutive conference losses.

The two teams face off at 5 p.m. on ESPN2.

Losing isn’t something Baylor has done as of late, having opened the season with 15-straight wins after being crowned last season’s national championship. But two lackluster performances saw the Bears plummet down the rankings and be placed in a tough position.

However, despite the two-game skid, Baylor still possesses the nation’s fourth-best scoring margin, besting opponents by an average of 20 points per game.

“They’re really talented, extremely well-coached,” WVU guard Sean McNeil said. “It’s surprising that they lost two at home, so we know they’re going to come in here really looking for a win and we’ve just got to be that more prepared.”

Seven players return from Baylor’s national championship team from a season ago, with a handful joining the Bears from the transfer portal. Together, the group has been the Big 12’s best team.

Senior guard James Akinjo has been the most impactful addition to the team’s rotation as he currently leads the team with 13.9 points per game. He’s only the eighth-best scorer in the Big 12, but he ranks atop the conference in assists per game.

Akinjo, who has seamlessly filled one of the team’s gaps on offense, has thrived along the likes of forward Matthew Mayer, arguably the Bears’ most versatile piece. Averaging just shy of nine points per game, he also averages just shy of five rebounds per game.

The return of big man Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and the addition of 6-foot-9 freshman Jeremy Sochan have Baylor clicking in the post, with the pair both ranking among the conference’s top 12 rebounders.

However, the Bears may be without Akinjo and Sochan on Tuesday. Both are listed as being day-to-day with injuries and head coach Scott Drew said Monday that he did not know if the pair will be available.

Despite losing their top three scorers from last season, including current NBA players Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, WVU head coach Bob Huggins doesn’t see this year’s Baylor team as being all that different from the team that won it all.

“Their guards may not shoot it quite as consistently as they did a year ago, but they’re good,” Huggins said. “They can create really good shots for themselves. They create for others. Their two bigs, I think, have gotten much, much, much better. They brought in a freshman who plays on the wing at 6-foot-6 — really, really athletic. You combine that with Mayer, who is every bit of 6-10 and plays on the perimeter. They’re hard to match-up with.”

West Virginia has struggled over the previous few games as leading-scorer Taz Sherman has yet to return to 100% after missing a game due to COVID-19. A win against Oklahoma State on Jan. 11 has been the lone bright spot of 2022, but the team’s miscues on the court have left much to be desired.

McNeil told reporters Monday that in a conference as difficult as the Big 12, things must be taken one game at a time. It’s with that mentality in mind that he feels confident the Mountaineers can make Tuesday’s game a close one.

“We’ve got to be extremely focused battling today in practice,” McNeil said. “Go over the game plan and figure out what we need to do to make it three straight losses for them.”

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