Always-Dangerous Cowboys Showing Up-And-Down Play
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Oklahoma State certainly has West Virginia’s attention.
The Cowboys are less than a week removed from an 84-79 win at Kansas, and sternly challenged fellow Big 12 leader Texas Tech in a 75-70 loss in Lubbock on Jan. 23. Of course, that’s balanced by losses to TCU, Baylor twice and the Big 12/SEC setback against Arkansas. It leaves OSU just 1-4 in its last five games, but oh what a one it was.
Guard Kendall Smith came off the bench to torch the Jayhawks for 24 points, including key late free throws in handing KU a third home loss for the first time since the 1998-99 season. Oklahoma State led by as many as 18 points in the contest, and dominated the glass in snapping a three-game losing streak. Smith was the catalyst, hitting 10 of 16 shots to go with five assists. The senior averages 11.6 points, and has been listed as a starter for Saturday’s noon game at the Coliseum.
It’s part of a three-guard line-up for first-year head coach Mike Boynton, whose team has balanced scoring across the line-up. Besides Smith’s double digits, OSU is getting a team-best 15.5 points per game from fellow guard Jeffrey Carroll and approximately eight points per game from 6-foot-6 sophomore guard Lindy Waters and forwards Mitchell Soloman and Cameron McGriff.
“I think they are good, they are talented,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “I think it took them a little while to adjust to life without (LA Clippers guard Juwan) Evans, but Smith has played well. He’s playing well.”
The ups and downs for both Oklahoma State and West Virginia have been rather extreme, each dropping contests to teams in the bottom tier of the Big 12 in Baylor and Iowa State while each recorded wins over top 20 teams in the same week. It’s become an MO of sorts for the league, which sees its top two teams with three conference losses and no team with an overall losing record.
“That’s this league,” Huggins said. “You’re gonna have a good win, a big win or whatever and turn around and play the day after next. It’s what this league is. You think you want those (one-day turnarounds) until you have a bunch of them.”
So how many losses will the Big 12 regular season champion have in the league?
“Texas Tech is playing pretty well right now and they’ve got three,” Huggins said. “It could be three, could be four. I don’t think any more than five.”
Which means the Mountaineers, at 18-6 overall and 7-4 in the league, have little margin for error. The good news is the team is back to full health after suffering through multiple bouts of the flu, and that there are four home games in the next six, followed by the road finale at Texas. There are also no more home-road two-day turnarounds, as WVU hosts Oklahoma State and TCU this Saturday and Monday and Iowa State and Texas Tech on Feb. 24 and 26, respectively.
The No. 19 Mountaineers, following the 75-73 win at Oklahoma on Monday, held a lighter practice session on Wednesday, then went harder Thursday in preparation. Huggins also addressed the play of Esa Ahmad, who hit the Sooners for 14 points and five rebounds in arguably his best overall performance since regaining eligibility on Jan. 13 versus Texas Tech, when he ripped the Red Raiders for 18 points in the loss.
“He has the best understanding of how to play on our team,” Huggins said. “He picks things up pretty quickly. I think it was a matter of feeling comfortable. It’s hard to walk in (after half of a season). It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.
“You either, one, feel a lot of pressure because everybody is saying ‘Wait until Esa gets back’ or the flipside of it was ‘We’re doing pretty good. Why do we need him?’ I think a lot of that stuff went through his head. I think that’s natural. I don’t know how to change it. The biggest thing it does is give us a small forward who can rebound. Now we can play big.”
Note – Good stuff from WVU Director of Digital Media John Antonick, who brings us this:
The Mountaineers have taken 40.4 percent of their total shot attempts from 3, far and away the highest percentage of 3s ever attempted by any Huggins team. The prior high was the 36.5 percent that his 2016 Mountaineer team tried.
Before this season, his West Virginia teams have taken anywhere from a high of 36.5 percent of their total shots from 3 in 2016 to a low of 30.4 percent in 2012. The first Mountaineer team Huggins inherited in 2008 from John Beilein, whose 2006 squad once tried 51.5 percent of its field goals from behind the arc, took just 34.2 percent of their shots from 3.
Huggins addressed why.
“Personnel,” he said. “I don’t know that we have ever had a power forward who could step out and shoot threes the way that Lamont (West) does. And we were kind of void of an inside game until I guess the Baylor game, when Sags (Konate) started to come on. Our guys started to have more confidence in him. I just want to win. I don’t care how.”