Conference Player of the Year Cade Cunningham is expected to return to action when No. 12 Oklahoma State faces No. 10 West Virginia on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 championship in Kansas City, Mo.
Cunningham is bothered by an ankle injury and missed Saturday’s 85-80 road win at West Virginia. An official update of his status is expected Wednesday.
Cunningham averages 19.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the fifth-seeded Cowboys (18-7). He also was named the Big 12’s top freshman to join Kevin Durant (Texas), Michael Beasley (Kansas State) and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) as players to sweep the league’s Player and Freshman of the Year awards.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins will again look to join Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bob Knight and Roy Williams as the only male coaches with 900 Division I victories. He was stymied by the Cowboys on Saturday.
The fourth-seeded Mountaineers (18-8) have lost two of their past three games and the defense was problematic in each defeat. West Virginia sustained a 94-89 overtime home loss to then-No. 3 Baylor on March 2 in addition to Saturday’s setback.
“We can score, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We can score the ball,” Huggins said earlier this week. “We’ve got to guard somebody. We haven’t guarded anybody. It’s kind of like we let them score so we can get the ball back. We can’t do that.
“You can’t win like that. You can’t win consistently like that. We’ve got to fix that.”
Second-team All-Big 12 choice Miles McBride leads West Virginia with a 15.3 scoring average. First-team selection Derek Culver averages 14.8 points and a team-best 9.8 rebounds. Taz Sherman (13.4) and Sean McNeil (11.9) also score in double digits.
Sherman scored a team-best 20 points in Saturday’s loss to the Cowboys.
The absence of Cunningham wasn’t an issue for Oklahoma State as Avery Anderson III stepped up to score a career-best 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
Anderson had four points — all on free throws — when the Cowboys dropped an 87-84 home game against West Virginia on Jan. 4.
But Oklahoma State is thriving as mid-March arrives with six wins in its past seven games, and Anderson says the best is still to come.
“We’re not done yet,” said Anderson, who averages 11.1 points. “We’ve got a lot more in front of us that we’re trying to prove. And when we get back at full strength, it’s going to be something to watch.”
Cunningham isn’t the only player ailing. The Cowboys haven’t had the services of Isaac Likekele (hand) in six of their past seven games. Likekele averages 9.8 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds.
Also, Kalib Boone (9.9) is shooting 66.9 percent from the field and likely to break the Oklahoma State single-season mark of 62.5 set by Chianti Roberts in 1996-97.
The winner of Thursday’s clash will likely face No. 2 Baylor (21-1) on Friday. In addition to their recent win over West Virginia, the top-seeded Bears defeated Oklahoma State twice this season by an average of 13 points.
–Field Level Media