Mountaineers Continue Recent Impressive Play, Shock Sooners On The Road
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Rumors of West Virginia’s demise are apparently greatly exaggerated.
That’s the often-quoted Mark Twain line following the gossip and hearsay about the author’s death. But after the Mountaineers buried themselves about two fathoms down with the five losses in six games, it seemed a reasonable assumption.
The issues were obvious. There was zero offensive flow or execution. WVU was unable to hit any sort of shots. Press Virginia had become a shell of itself, allowing more than 50 points in consecutive halves against Kentucky and Iowa State. The Cyclones, a team that was flirting with last place in the league, crushed the Mountaineers 93-77 just six days ago. The 15-1 start and No. 2 national ranking seemed so yesterday, yesterdaaaaaay.
But in battling the flu that raged through the team, the Mountaineers seemed to hit a reset button of sorts as head coach Bob Huggins pushed all the right ones. After giving up more than 50 points, WVU suddenly scored that many in the second half against K-State last Saturday, then put up another 50 on Oklahoma in the opening stanza of Monday night’s epic. It accompanied a defensive resurgence in which West Virginia tried a new-look zone versus the Wildcats and were able to limit the scoring around Trae Young to where the guard’s 32 points – and his one assist against six turnovers – weren’t quite enough for the Sooners, who lost at home for the first time since the last time they played West Virginia back on Feb. 8 of 2017.
It’s all been topsy-turvy three weeks that could be just the preface to a Big 12 battle that figures to go down to the wire, what with Kansas already having lost three times in Allen Fieldhouse along this year and WVU’s win at Oklahoma pulling the Mountaineers within half a game of the Jayhawks and a Texas Tech team ranked seventh nationally.
“We had to grind it out,” Huggins said. “That’s what people have come to expect from us.”
Though not of late. It appeared the slump was way more than just that. But now, after holding Oklahoma 25 points below its season home scoring average and with two victories in the pocket and a pair of home games on the horizon, this 18-6, 7-4 team looks like the one with energy and enthusiasm that dominated through the midpoint of the schedule.
Those aspects of play were displayed again in Norman, as the first half played out completely differently than the second. WVU came out hot, hitting 57 percent from the field while knocking down eight three-pointers. Five of those came from Lamont West, who rallied West Virginia from down 14-9 to a 26-15 lead with his hot shooting that spurred a 14-1 push.
It was a showcase of just how much effort and execution the Mountaineers could flash off a 48-hour turnaround that concerned Huggins. WVU controlled the boards, used Sags Konate effectively as a rim protector and rotated the backcourt in guarding Young. The bench was also effective, as West’s 17 led a 19-point effort from that group that helped forge the 50-42 advantage at the break.
But that segued into several scoring lulls in a second half marred by far more missed shots and some more rugged defense on both sides. West Virginia led by at at two different points, but did go scoreless over the first 5:26 of the second half as the Sooners rallied. The Mountaineers didn’t even shoot their first free throws until the 13:46 mark – of the second half.
But there was enough on defense that the lead, while lessened, was never lost. OU missed 10 straight shots in one stretch, and struggled in keeping West Virginia, a team which ranks second in the NCAA in offensive rebounds per game at 14.9, off the offensive glass as the Mountaineers got to that average. Combine that with the 15 turnovers forced – six by Young – and there was enough nerve and reserve to fuel a huge road victory that halted Oklahoma’s 14-game home winning streak and slowed an 11-0 home start this season.
WVU has now won two in a row, while OU dropped its fifth game in seven. West Virginia has won four of the last five in the series and, but picked up just their second all-time win in Norman.