Three weeks ago, West Virginia looked like a team locked into the NCAA Tournament and good enough to play with — or beat — any team it would face in the Big Dance.
But four losses in five games have the 20th-ranked Mountaineers looking for answers, with their latest test set for Saturday when they host Oklahoma in Morgantown, W.Va., as the Big 12 Conference schedule heads into its home stretch.
The latest head-scratcher for the Mountaineers came Monday in a 67-57 loss at Texas. West Virginia missed 11 of its 21 free-throw attempts, made only 3 of 11 from 3-point range and committed 15 turnovers against a Longhorns team that was, due to injury or illness, without four players who have started games this year.
“You can’t go (10 of 21) from the foul line, you can’t continue to shoot 20 percent from three, and you can’t continue to miss shots two feet from the basket, and we do all of that,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “If you add in the missed front-ends (of free-throw chances) it was more like 10-for-30.”
West Virginia (19-9, 7-8 Big 12) got 14 points from Oscar Tshiebwe and 12 from Derek Culver. But the interior advantage the Mountaineers enjoyed in their 38-point victory against Texas earlier this month in Morgantown was completely negated as Texas matched West Virginia’s 29 rebounds.
“We haven’t been good defensively, but you hold people to 60 points and you ought to win — if you’re any good,” Huggins said. “We’re at about that, and we can’t score more than that.”
The Sooners (17-11, 7-8) head to Morgantown with plenty of momentum after beating No. 22 Texas Tech 65-51 Tuesday in Oklahoma City to snap a three-game losing streak.
Oklahoma’s big three of Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek and Austin Reaves logged 19, 15 and 11 points, respectively, while collectively recording 22 rebounds, six assists, three steals and four of the team’s 10 blocks.
“I thought we came out attacking,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “The guys moved the ball, shared the ball — especially through the first half. Really happy and proud for the guys. I thought for 40 minutes, they really battled like crazy.”
Doolittle wore a mask after sustaining a broken nose Saturday against Oklahoma State. It did little to slow him down, as he made 9 of 15 shots and added seven rebounds, with 15 of his points coming in the second half.
“These last four games will determine if we make it (into the NCAA Tournament) or not, essentially,” Doolittle said. “So, just more urgency and readiness. Attention to detail is something that will be heightened as we go forward. We knew we needed to bounce back, and just have to keep going after this.”
The Sooners are considered on the bubble for a spot in the tournament, but if they can find a way to win Saturday after beating the Red Raiders, that could be enough to get them in the field.
“Guys understand where we stand,” Kruger said. “There are 30 or 40 teams that are in the same position as we are right now.”
Earlier this month, Oklahoma beat the Mountaineers comfortably in Norman, 69-59. However, West Virginia is 13-1 at home this year.
–Field Level Media