West Virginia came to Texas on a roll, surging upward in the Big 12 as perhaps the most dangerous team to play over the second half of the conference season.
The Mountaineers ran into a Longhorns team that has been the surprise of the season and just now seems to be hitting its stride on both ends of the court.
Javan Felix scored 18 points and No. 19 Texas used another impressive offensive effort to roll to an 88-71 victory Saturday night, a win that kept the Longhorns within a game of Kansas for the Big 12 lead.
Five players scored in double figures for Texas (20-5, 9-3), which dominated the Mountaineers with 58 percent shooting and a 41-26 edge in rebounding. Cameron Ridley scored 17 points and was a force on defense with three of Texas’ five blocks, two in the final minute of the first half.
“It’s one of the best games we’ve had moving the ball,” said Longhorns guard Demarcus Holland, who had 11 points and a team-high seven assists as point guard Isaiah Taylor played just 25 minutes with foul trouble.
Jonathan Holmes, the Longhorns’ leading scorer, scored 11 in his return after missing a game with a knee injury.
Eron Harris scored 21 points for West Virginia (15-11, 7-6), which had surged up the league standings by winning four of five.
Texas reached 20 wins for the 14th time in 16 seasons under coach Rick Barnes . This time might be the most significant, though, considering the Longhorns’ dramatic turnaround from last season’s 16-18 finish that left Texas out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years.
And by beating West Virginia, they stayed just a game behind conference leader Kansas, with games against Iowa State and the Jayhawks next week.
“We’re all playing for each other,” Ridley said. “We’re playing for a Big 12 championship. Everybody on the team has the same goal, which is to win games, not anything selfish.”
Texas shot 61 percent in the first half, and Felix and Holmes both had 10 points by halftime. Texas’ final shooting mark of 58 percent was just below the school record of 59 percent for a Big 12 game.
“We couldn’t guard. Couldn’t, didn’t, wouldn’t. Something,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “You can’t let people shoot that well, especially when you’re not making shots.”
Even with those offensive fireworks, Texas controlled the game early behind a defense that created steals on the perimeter and all but locked down the lane behind Ridley’s big body.
Holland, who blew a layup off a turnover in the opening seconds, converted two layups off steals in a 17-2 Texas run that put the Longhorns up 28-16 when Felix made his first two 3-pointers.
West Virginia hoped to stay within 10 by halftime, but Ridley’s two blocks in the final minute sent the Longhorns into the break leading by 11 and brought the home crowd to its feet.
“Whenever I dunk or block a shot, it gets the crowd into it,” Ridley said.
West Virginia showed a hint of a rally when the Mountaineers scored five straight points to start the second half. A 3-pointer by Harris trimmed the Texas lead to six before the Longhorns responded with an 8-0 run.
Felix made another 3-pointer and Prince Ibeh had two dunks, both coming on quick catch-and-jumps that left his defender flat-footed, to put the Longhorns ahead 61-46 with 12:14 to play.
Texas hasn’t lost at home since the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma.
“If you’re trying to win a Big 12 championship, you’ve got to win your home games because the road is so tough,” Holmes said.