Last Year's Memory Motivates WVU in Return to Big 12 Final - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Last Year's Memory Motivates WVU in Return to Big 12 Final

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James "Beetle" Bolden leads the WVU huddle at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) James "Beetle" Bolden leads the WVU huddle at the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
WVU players Elijah Macon, Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton watch the trophy presentation after suffering an 81-71 loss to Kansas in the 2016 Big 12 Championship. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) WVU players Elijah Macon, Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton watch the trophy presentation after suffering an 81-71 loss to Kansas in the 2016 Big 12 Championship. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
KANSAS CITY -

One year ago, it was someone else raising the trophy. The uniforms were not gold and blue, the faces were not quite as familiar and the name that spread across each player’s chest did not read “West Virginia.”

And yet there were the Mountaineers, still gathered around their team bench, watching a celebration they had planned would be their own.

“I think it’s the respectful thing to do,” Bob Huggins said. “When people get up and walk out during a trophy presentation, I think it’s disrespectful. I want my guys to be respectful and I want them to sit there and see people receive what they rightfully should have received.”

What Huggins’ guy could have received was the hardware that comes along with being the last team standing at the end of the Big 12 Championship. Kansas overcame a one-point halftime deficit to beat West Virginia 81-71 and it was the Jayhawks, not the Mountaineers, raising the trophy at the tournament’s end.

“We just saw something slip right through our fingers,” WVU junior guard Jevon Carter said. “We sat there on that bench, watched that blue and white confetti fall down as they stood there happy, jumping on the stage, putting their shirts and their hats on. It wasn’t a good feeling at all.”

Rather than retreat to the privacy of their locker room, Huggins and his players watched.

One year later, they are back in the championship game, seeking to win the program’s first-ever Big 12 title and its first conference tournament trophy since winning the Big East in 2010.

“We gave it our all last year and for us to lose it like how we did, it destroyed us,” senior forward Brandon Watkins said. “That was last year. We’re trying to get past that and this year, we’re trying to win it all.”

If the Mountaineers are going to win it all, it won’t be with a championship victory over Kansas. The Jayhawks didn’t make it out of their opening game, victims of a TCU upset.

Kansas may have been the home team in the sense that its campus is located closer to the Sprint Center than any other in the Big 12, but Iowa State fans have packed this arena like it is their own gym. They like to call it “Hilton South” as a nod to the Hilton Coliseum, where the Cyclones play at home in Ames.

The Mountaineers beat Iowa State twice during the regular season, including a home victory just last week in Morgantown.

West Virginia’s offense, which ranked No. 2 in scoring in the Big 12 with 83.9 points per game, has been held far below that average in this tournament. The team hit fewer than 27 percent of its shots against Kansas State and yet somehow here it is one of two that will compete for the trophy.

The idea that their best game is still out there gives the Mountaineers confidence.

“We’re not playing bad defense,” Nathan Adrian said. “They only scored 50 points, so that’s never bad when you hold a team to 50 points, but we’ve got to score a couple more than 51 [on Saturday].”

One more win and it won’t be someone else’s confetti falling from the rafters Saturday night. One more win and the Mountaineers can each ascend the ladder to cut a piece of the net from the baskets at the Sprint Center.

“We’re back here at it. We’ve got another shot. Let’s see what we do with it,” Carter said. “It’s about us. I just want to win for our school, for our fans, for our state. I just want to do it for West Virginia.”

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