West Virginia didn’t have to wait long for its revenge shot at Oklahoma State as the 10th-ranked Mountaineers tip off their postseason run with a rematch against the 12th-ranked Cowboys. The action in Kansas City gets started at 11:30 a.m. ET.
WVU’s disappointing loss from Saturday is obviously fresh in the mind of the team and its fans. In fact, that game’s outcome is the very reason this rematch is even happening, as it triggered the Mountaineers’ fall from the 2-seed to the 4-seed.
“I think we really have to come and set the tone early,” said WVU guard Miles McBride. “I think in that last game we really came out flat and gave them a ton of confidence. Guys that don’t really get to have the ball in their hands…really stepped up and made a lot of plays that game [with two of their best players out], so I think we need to come out and set the tone, and set it early.”
The bad news for West Virginia is those two players — the guard pairing of Big 12 Player of the Year Cade Cunningham and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention Isaiah Likekele — will be back in the lineup. The good news, though, is they’ve already faced (and defeated) the Cowboys with those players on the floor — in Stillwater, no less.
It wasn’t without a little pain — Cunningham and Likekele combined for 47 points in the Mountaineer win, in which WVU had to come Cunningham made steady improvements through the rest of the regular season.
“Cade Cunningham’s a great player. MVP of the league, he’s the real deal. When you have a player like that you have somebody to go to,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “But I think the other guys played really well. I mean, [OSU coach] Mike [Boynton] did a great job of getting those guys ready to play contrary to what we did.”
The stakes are much higher in Thursday’s third meeting, as it is win or go home in the Big 12 Tournament — but there’s still a lot beyond for West Virginia. Bob Huggins has another shot at his elusive 900th victory, which didn’t materialize on Saturday.
Then, of course, there’s the ever-looming thought of the Big 12 title hanging in the balance. West Virginia is making its seventh appearance in the tournament and has yet to pull off a win despite three straight trips to the finals from 2016-2018. Oklahoma State took the tournament twice in 2004 and 2005, but have only won one game since Mike Boynton was hired in 2017.
“You can’t come out and be flat,” Huggins said. “You’ve got to bring you best game every time out, otherwise you’re be back home watching it on TV.”
The winner of this contest will move on to the third round of the Big 12 Tournament, and will face the winner of top-seeded Baylor’s second-round matchup on March 12 (the Bears’ opponent is still yet to be decided).