A day after reaching No. 1 for the first time in school history, Baylor found out just how intimidating ‘Press Virginia’ could be last January in Morgantown.
West Virginia’s relentless press forced 29 turnovers, only two short of Baylor’s school record. The Mountaineers not only handed the Bears their first loss of the season in an 89-68 rout, they knocked them out of the No. 1 spot.
The Bears hope they’ve learned some lessons about handling the ball against West Virginia’s press when they face the No. 2 Mountaineers at 6 p.m. Tuesday at WVU Coliseum.
“They’ve got the best press in the league, so we’ve got to stay poised whatever happens,” said Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte. “We had a horrible game last year at their place, and I think them being ranked No. 2, we can get them back and that’s what we plan on doing. It’s a great press, a great defensive team, so we’re going to have to take care of the ball.”
The Mountaineers’ No. 2 ranking is their highest since Dec. 29, 1959, when NBA legend Jerry West played for them. With wins over Kansas State and No. 9 Oklahoma last week, West Virginia (14-1, 3-0) extended its winning streak to 14 games and vaulted four spots in the Associated Press poll.
Baylor (11-4, 1-2) broke through for its first Big 12 win with Saturday’s 69-60 decision over Texas at the Ferrell Center. The unranked Bears won’t have nearly as much pressure on them as last season in Morgantown, but a win against the Mountaineers would provide a major boost.
“The good thing is coming off a win, we’ve got some positive momentum,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “We’re starting to get people back healthy and we’re starting to jell. So we’re excited for the challenge and the opportunity.”
West Virginia ranks third nationally by forcing 20.3 turnovers per game, and senior point guard Jevon Carter leads the country with 3.67 steals per game. Since no team on Baylor’s schedule presses as much as West Virginia, it’s hard to prepare for that level of defensive intensity.
“Hopefully, the last time we were there we got all the turnovers out for that year and this year,” Drew said. “First and foremost, we’ve got to handle the pressure and do a good job taking care of the basketball. If you do that, then West Virginia doesn’t get near the credit they deserve for their half-court defense. They really take you out of the offense you try to run. So with us, it’s not only breaking the press, but then it’s offensively being able to execute in the half court.”
Though Carter is the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year, he’s also a major offensive threat as he leads the Mountaineers with 16.7 points and 6.9 assists per game. Lecomte, who leads the Bears with 16.8 points and 3.3 assists per game, is looking forward to the challenge of matching up against Carter.
“He’s a very good point guard and a go-to guy and a great defensive player,” Lecomte said. “But we want to go at him as much as we can. On defense, we want to keep him in front of us and not give him open shots and make his job tougher.”
The Bears not only want to cut down on turnovers, they hope to avoid getting into frenzied pace against West Virginia’s press.
“They try to speed you up,” Lecomte said. “If you do get sped up, you’ve got to score. If you can slow them down and play at your own speed and control the game, that’s what we want to do.”
Though Carter is the Mountaineers’ star, they spread the scoring around as guard Daxter Miles is averaging 13.9 points, forward Lamont West is averaging 12.9 and guard James Bolden is averaging 10.5. Freshman forward Terry Allen earned Big 12 newcomer of the week after coming off the bench to average 21 points and shoot 73.9 percent from the field in last week’s wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma.
Baylor hopes to gain an advantage in the paint with 7-0 center Jo Lual-Acuil, who is averaging 16.1 points and 9.8 rebounds, and forward Terry Maston, who is averaging 10.4 points and seven boards.
But the Bears are seeking better outside shooting. In Big 12 play, the Bears are shooting 19.4 percent from 3-point range and 43 percent overall. While Lecomte has taken 36 shots in the three conference games, guards Jake Lindsey and King McClure have combined for just 29 shots.
“Even though Jake doesn’t shoot as much as King, they’re both great shooters,” Lecomte said. “I told them before every game and practice when you’re open you’ve got to shoot the ball. Not only for me because it will relieve a lot of pressure on me, but for them because they’ve got to have fun. They’re great players and we all believe in them that they can make shots.”