The Times West Virginian

Sports

February 5, 2014

WVU looking to make a statement against Oklahoma

MORGANTOWN — If West Virginia University is to grow into a team that peaks and makes a run at the NCAA Tournament during the second half of what has become a wide-open Big 12 season, Juwan Staten is going to have to get more help, and it has to start now.

No. 21/23 Oklahoma comes to the Coliseum for a 7 p.m. game today that is being carried on ESPNU, and to beat the Sooners you have to outscore them … and that means that Eron Harris and Terry Henderson have to come with their guns loaded.

Staten you don’t worry about these days.

He has blossomed into the top scorer in the Big 12, leading the league in conference games at 20.4 points a contest while also fulfilling his point guard responsibilities by ranking first in assists at nearly 6 per game in all games.

But you ask coach Bob Huggins how his team is going to make it through this stretch of games in which he has just finished beating Baylor and Kansas State and now plays Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor and Iowa State again, and his answer is brief and to the point.

“Make some shots. We’re dependent on making some shots. If we make some shots, we’ll be fine,” he said.

But that is not just Staten making shots, as he has been.

Harris and Henderson can really turn WVU into a machine by hitting from the outside while Staten dishes to them and then also drives the lane and gets to the free-throw line.

Staten has been ridiculously efficient, hitting 52.7 percent of all his field goal attempts, which is third best in the conference. If Harris and Henderson — and Remi Dibo when Huggins has him in to fire away from the outside — make it impossible for defenses to overplay Staten, WVU becomes a dangerous opponent on any given night no matter who the opponent may be.

This matchup with Oklahoma has all the makings of one of the fun games to be played in the Coliseum in quite a while for the Sooners, who stand 17-5 overall but could find themselves tied for third in the conference with WVU and maybe a couple of other teams at 6-4 if the Mountaineers win, are the top-scoring team in the Big 12.

Oklahoma averages 83.5 points a game but has the worst defense in the conference, giving up 77 points a game. What’s more, it should turn into a 3-point shooting contest as Oklahoma owns 173 3s this season and WVU 172, to rank second and third in the Big 12 behind Iowa State.

And don’t look for WVU to slow Oklahoma down. That just hasn’t been part of a game plan that has WVU allowing the highest field goal percentage at 43.8 percent and the highest three-point goal percentage at 38.4 percent.

 In Buddy Hield (17.0) and Cameron Clark (16.1) the Sooners have two of the top-five scorers in the league, while Ryan Spangler is the league’s top rebounder, the only one averaging double figures at 10.2 and topping the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

“He’s the best rebounder in our league, maybe one of the best in the country. He rebounds everything,” Huggins said.

It is a good Oklahoma basketball team.

“Those freshmen from a year ago have a year under their belt and are playing better,” Huggins said of Hield and Clark.

That makes it a difficult assignment.

“We have to do what we’re good at doing,” he said.

And Oklahoma doesn’t lead the league in scoring so much because the Sooners have better offensive players than anyone else. It’s more a matter of style.

“It’s the same thing I said before Kansas State; when you have more possessions, you are going to score more points,” Huggins explained. “They shoot it faster, so there’s more possessions. We are shooting more than we have shot before so we’re having more points in our games, too.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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