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With the band back together, WVU's hope is to suddenly start playing some sweet music

Jan. 30—MORGANTOWN — There are precedents in college basketball for the rallying cry Josh Eilert rang out Tuesday, ones that led to some amazing stories and ones he's addressed repeatedly to his players.

"Like I like to tell our guys right now, we have a lot to play for and a lot to prove as we progress through the conference season, because now we have everybody, " Eilert began. "Let's kind of flush the past and strive for growth every day and try to figure out how we maximize the potential of this team."

WVU STATS It's a why-not-us attitude Eilert is pushing on WVU (7-13, 2-5 Big 12), which waited until Jan. 27 to play its first game with a complete roster, and even then, center Jesse Edwards wasn't close to his old self.

That is changing by the day, if not hours, as Edwards said his surgically repaired wrist is feeling better over time.

"The recovery has been going great, " said Edwards, who was averaging 14.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game prior to the injury on Dec. 16. "The doctors have been really happy. Every photo we've taken, it's been great. They said it's still going to hurt a little, but they've told me I can get right back to the way I was going."

On paper, the story seems simple enough.

Eilert referenced it to "getting the band back together, " and then that band goes out and suddenly makes some sweet music.

That theory sounds good to the players.

"You finally have everyone that you wanted at the start, so in a way it's motivating for us that we get to show what we can actually do, " Edwards said. "It's nice to have the idea that you can finally go at full power. It's up to us to show what we got."

It's a whole other thing, though, to actually go out and do it, which is the mission for the Mountaineers, who host Cincinnati (14-6, 3-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday inside the Coliseum.

And WVU, in a sense, will be playing in fast forward. The calendar is about to turn to February. There are just 11 games remaining in the regular season.

"Yeah, it feels like you have less time to show everything you want to show, " Edwards said. "In another way, you look at the positive. It's the period of the year when you want to show what you got. That's what we're going for. We have what we have at the right time of the year."

Those 11 games will have challenges. Seven of them will come against teams currently ranked or were previously ranked in the AP Top 25.

But this WVU team has already faced dozens of obstacles between coaching changes, injuries, suspensions and court battles with the NCAA, just to now be at this point in the season.

"I don't think any of the guys are going to forget this year, " Edwards said. "Win or not, it's been the craziest year of all of our careers. That does make for some really great friendships and some bonds that we'll never forget."

And while it looks good to see Edwards' name next to RaeQuan Battle, Quinn Slazinski and Kerr Kriisa in the scorebook, Eilert knows the transition to getting the band all on the same page right away will be an enormous challenge.

"Is it hard to build that chemistry midway through the hardest conference in the country ?" Eilert asked. "Absolutely it is."

It's been done before. Eilert referenced the story of the 2010-11 UConn team that got hot at the right moment and went from the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament to winning the national championship.

More recently, the 2020-21 Oregon State team finished the regular season with a 14-12 record, only to magically go on and somehow win the Pac-12 tournament and then advance to the 2021 Elite Eight.

Could that be WVU ? That's the question Eilert is asking of his own players.

"Let's look at these 11 games we have left and the conference tournament and see if we can maximize our potential and see what we could have been from Day 1, " Eilert said. "We've had a lot of challenges up to this point and that's something we had to navigate. Let's not hang our head and see what we can make of the rest of the season."

CINCINNATI at WVU WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday WHERE: WVU Coliseum TV: ESPN + (Online subscription needed)

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