AUSTIN, Texas — In the last 10 games, the Texas Longhorns have evolved from a team hoping to pull out of a recent slump to taking care of business near the top of the Big 12 standings.
No. 19 Texas dominated the paint and cooled off the hot West Virginia Mountaineers 88-71 on Saturday night at the Frank Erwin Center.
Guard Javan Felix scored 18 points and Texas had 46 points in the paint to the Mountaineers’ 14 as the Longhorns ran away with it.
West Virginia won three of four entering the game, including a 25-point pummeling of No. 11 Iowa State earlier in the week. But the Mountaineers could not handle Texas’ size advantage.
Longhorns center Cameron Ridley had 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks. Texas forward Jonathan Holmes, who missed the Oklahoma State game earlier in the week with a minor knee injury, came back to add 11 points and seven rebounds.
“I went into the game trying to be more aggressive,” Ridley said. “I was trying to do small things that I wasn’t doing before.”
West Virginia did not have an answer for Ridley, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the Longhorns’ win at West Virginia earlier this season.
“We tried to stay between him and the basket in the second half, which we didn’t do in the first half,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “It’s hard to guard him.”
The Longhorns (20-5, 9-3 Big 12) finished 16-18 last season and fell to seventh in the Big 12. Texas lost its first two conference games this season but since then have won nine of 10. The Longhorns are a game behind Kansas for first place in the conference.
“We’re all playing for each other,” Ridley said. “We’re playing for a Big 12 championship and everybody on the team has the same goal which is to win games, not anything selfish.”
Texas swept two home games during the last week against NCAA Tournament contenders Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Now the Longhorns go on the road to face Iowa State and Kansas in the next week.
But Texas coach Rick Barnes said there’s no reason to look at those two games as a pair.
“We’ve got to get better,” Barnes said. “Every day matters. I told our guys that this is the only game we got; not to think in terms of two games. … That’s what we try to get these guys to understand.”
West Virginia (15-11, 7-6) cut Texas’ lead to six points early in the second half, but the Longhorns responded with a 7-0 run that gave them a 48-34 edge with 16:46 left and the lead never dipped below double digits after that.
Guard Eron Harris led West Virginia with 21 points. The Mountaineers made eight 3-pointers, but their outside game could not match Texas’ efficiency inside.
“We didn’t respond the way we needed to respond,” Huggins said. “We can’t let people shoot that well. We have to be more resilient during the game. When things don’t go your way, you don’t stop and whine about it.”
The Longhorns outrebounded West Virginia 41-26.
Oddly, it was a West Virginia four-point play that seemed to ignite Texas’ key run of the first half.
Mountaineers guard Terry Henderson hit a 3-pointer and was bumped on the way down by Texas guard Martez Walker. Henderson hit the free throw to give West Virginia a 14-11 lead at the 11:28 mark of the first half.
But the Longhorns answered as guard Isaiah Taylor hit a floater on the next trip down the floor. That started a surge in which Texas reeled off eight straight points, including two jumpers by Ridley.
Henderson hit a jumper to break the streak, but the Longhorns kept going to take control of the first half. Felix’s 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the first half finished a 17-2 run and gave Texas a 28-16 lead.
Holmes completed a three-point play and Felix hit another trey as the Longhorns extended their largest lead of the first half to 16 points with 3:19 left before the break.
Harris made two free throws and forward Nathan Adrian hit a 3-pointer to cut Texas’ lead to 11 at halftime.
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