After coasting to victories in its first two games, No. 2 Texas faces its toughest challenge of the young season when it meets No. 14 West Virginia on Monday in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic in Kansas City.
The Longhorns (2-0) started their season with an 89-56 home victory over Southern on Tuesday, then routed Samford 77-33 in the second round of the tournament Wednesday. Texas held the Bulldogs to 13 first-half points and outrebounded them 54-15.
P.J. Tucker had 22 points against Samford as Texas tuned up for West Virginia, which came within one win of the Final Four last season.
“West Virginia is a real good team. They made an unbelievable run in the tournament,” Tucker said. “We just went against a zone, so we got a little time to get ready for it.”
Texas will depend on its formidable frontcourt against the Mountaineers. LaMarcus Aldridge had 13 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday, and Brad Buckman finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
“It gets pretty selfish out there rebounding,” Buckman said. “That’s our goal every game.”
West Virginia is the first of seven ranked opponents that the Longhorns will face this season. Texas coach Rick Barnes has a school-record 29 victories against ranked teams.
West Virginia (2-0) began the season with an 88-69 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 12 and beat Wofford 61-41 the next day.
Kevin Pittsnogle scored 13 of West Virginia’s first 17 points against Wofford and finished with 19. Frank Young added 10 points for the Mountaineers.
“I said at the beginning of the year that Frank was going to be one of the biggest surprises this season,” Pittsnogle said. “But I felt responsible for carrying the team because we were not making our shots. I got inside and got some baskets, and things started to fall.
“Since they did, I wanted the ball more.”
The Mountaineers hit nine 3-pointers and held Wofford to 34.6 percent shooting from the field—a credit to West Virginia’s trademark 1-3-1 zone, according to coach John Beilein.
“Sometimes that zone just spooks people,” Beilein said. “I still haven’t gotten used to how fast leads can change. When we make 3s, the defense just steps up big time. Everyone gets pretty charged up. That’s the beauty of the 3.”
The winner of Monday’s matchup between Texas and West Virginia advances to Tuesday’s tournament final, where it will face eighth-ranked Kentucky or No. 20 Iowa.
The Mountaineers won their only meeting with the Longhorns, 80-79 on Dec. 28, 1973.