KANSAS CITY - How does Bob Huggins get Daxter Miles Jr.
to repeat what he did last Friday night against Iowa State when he scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Mountaineers lock up the No. 2 seed in this week’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship?
Miles made four of eight from three - easily his best shooting performance since making five out of six from behind the arc against VMI - he crashed the glass, and he even made his free throws (five out of six) against the Cyclones.
That was more like the Daxter Miles Jr.
West Virginia fans have been accustomed to seeing.
Miles has had some good games this year, despite getting a late start to the season. He scored 20 in a blowout win against VMI, he had 22 in a road victory against Oklahoma State and scored 22 at the Coliseum a week later against TCU.
He’s had good games before this year, too, like the 20 he dropped in a home win against Baylor during his sophomore year, or the 23 points he scored at Kansas as a freshman.
Miles will be the first person to admit that his focus has not always been there this season, for whatever reason.
“I’ve just got to stay mentally dialed in,” he said.
That’s something Huggins will readily agree with.
“Getting him in the gym has been the struggle, but I think he’s been a lot more diligent about being in the gym and working at his craft,” Huggins said.
“There have been some lapses I wish wouldn’t have happened, but as long as we win it’s okay,” Miles Jr. said.
Teammate Tarik Phillip
says when Daxter is active and engaged he can be a real weapon for the team offensively - with or without the ball in his hands.
The two follow-up dunks Miles Jr. had in overtime against Texas Tech came at a time when West Virginia really needed someone to step up and make a play. He was also more active away from the ball against Iowa State last Friday night.
Having a guard capable of playing above the rim the way Miles can on the glass is difficult to defend.
“He can jump obviously but he’s also pretty strong,” Phillip said. “Once he gets them wedged in there and he jumps there is nothing he can do. They push him and get a foul or they let him get the rebound.”
Phillip mentioned that Miles can be his own worst enemy at times.
“He needs to move on to the next play,” Phillip said. “I think he sometimes dwells on things he messes up and we’re just trying to get him to play through stuff.”
It’s no secret that Huggins has been trying to get Miles Jr. to ratchet up his game and play the way he is capable of playing on a more consistent basis as the Mountaineers begin postseason play.
Daxter is capable of shooting better than the 33.1 percent he is shooting from three for his career, he is capable of shooing much better than the 58.1 percent he is shooting from the free throw line during his career, and, despite standing just 6-foot-3, he is capable of grabbing more than the 2.2 rebounds per game he currently averages.
“It’s a game of repetition and when you don’t get your reps in you’re not going to make shots,” Huggins explained. “That’s anybody. That’s why the great players spend so much time in the gym.”
“Everybody knows he’s been on me,” Miles added. “He’s just wants me to get focused and have fun. He said I haven’t been having fun. He wanted me to smile more, so I’ve been smiling a lot. Having fun is always good. It brings the best out of all of us.”
And, having a focused and determined Daxter Miles Jr.
is capable of bringing out the best in his team.
As for his coach getting on him, Miles Jr. said he can handle it.
“It motivates me because it shows that he cares about me,” he said. “If he didn’t care about you he wouldn’t be saying anything to you.”
* The Mountaineers did their heavy prep work today at Rockhurst University before busing over to the Sprint Center for their shoot-around in front of the media this afternoon. West Virginia is using Rockhurst University’s Mason-Halpin Field House for all of its closed practices in Kansas City for this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship.
* Before last year’s run to the Phillips 66 Championship game, West Virginia suffered early tournament exits in 2013 (Texas Tech), 2014 (Texas) and 2015 (Baylor).
The Mountaineers are now 3-4 in Big 12 tournament play heading into Thursday night’s quarterfinal game.
* West Virginia’s non-conference schedule got a little boost last night when a couple of mid-major opponents, Mount St. Mary’s and Northern Kentucky, won their conference tournaments and will play in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Mount St. Mary defeated St. Francis, Pa., in the Northeast Conference Tournament and goes into NCAA play with a 19-15 overall record, while Northern Kentucky improved to 24-10 after last night’s Horizon Conference Tournament championship victory over Milwaukee.
* Asked to point out what sets this team apart from the prior two teams he played on in 2015 and 2016, Daxter Miles Jr.
said this year’s team gets along so well on and off the court.
“What sets this team apart is off the court we’re real close, even the young guys,” he admitted. “I’ve never been around a team like this. The first two teams I’ve been on were similar, but we’re closer this year. We’ve got a lot of funny guys on the team. Chemistry off the court leads to chemistry on the court.”
* Just in case you were wondering, the Big 12 Championship record for points scored in a game is 43 by Mike Singletary against Texas A&M on March 11, 2009. No, not Mike Singletary, the famous Chicago Bears middle linebacker, but rather the 6-foot-5 small forward from El Paso, Texas, who played at Texas Tech.
West Virginia’s Devin Williams is in the Big 12 Championship record book for his .750 shooting performance (9 of 12) against Kansas in last year’s final.
* West Virginia will face the winner of tonight’s Texas Tech-Texas first round game that will tip off at 9 p.m. EST. The two teams split their games this year, the Longhorns taking a 62-58 decision in Austin on February 1 and the Red Raiders claiming a 67-57 verdict in Lubbock on March 1.
Texas Tech appeared to be in good shape for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid as late February 13 with wins over West Virginia and Baylor, but the Red Raiders have lost four of their final five regular season games down the stretch - the only victory coming at Texas.
With an 18-13 overall record, Texas Tech is going to have to run the table and win the conference tournament to get a bid this year.
The biggest issue for Texas Tech is what it has done away from United Supermarkets Arena this year. The Red Raiders went 0-9 on the road in conference play, 1-9 overall, and is just 2-10 in foreign arenas this year.
A young Texas team that is now 10-21 has lost games everywhere - at home, on the road and at neutral sites.
After its 67-65 win over Iowa State at home on February 1, the Longhorns have their final seven games of the regular season, five of those by double-digit margins.
Texas Tech is expected to start four juniors and a senior tonight while Texas is expected to start two freshmen, two sophomores and a senior, although Longhorn freshman forward Jarrett Allen is a potential lottery pick and will likely enter the NBA Draft this summer.
Huggins said he has spent time the last couple of days preparing for both before focusing solely on tonight’s winner during tomorrow’s shoot-around.
“(Texas Tech) has a bunch of guys that can score,” said Huggins. “They don’t put anybody on the floor that can’t score the ball and they are kind of like us - you don’t know which one of them is going to jump up and bite you.
“And, (Jarrett) Allen is pretty good (for Texas). They don’t have anybody else in that caliber but they are the same way - they’ve got a bunch of guys and they throw guys in there and the guy who is making shots stays.”
* And finally, TV coverage for this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship: Wednesday night’s two first round games on ESPNU, the two Thursday afternoon quarterfinal games on ESPN2 and the two Thursday evening quarterfinal games on ESPNU, Friday’s two semifinal games slotted for either ESPN2 or ESPN, and Saturday’s championship game on ESPN.