The Times West Virginian

March 5, 2013

Sooners, Mountaineers set for tipoff

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — There is little left for West Virginia to play for this year except to save face and maybe pull off a couple upsets in the two remaining games and the Big 12 Tournament to get themselves a spot in the NIT, but Coach Bob Huggins says that doesn’t change anything.

As the Mountaineers prepare for a rare third regular-season game against conference opponent Oklahoma, Huggins says the preparation will be as it always is.

“We will prepare the best we can possibly prepare,” he said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches conference call. “I think you saw we were prepared when the game starts. We started well lately. Our problems come when we have to adjust. We don’t adjust to other people. That part of it has been difficult for us.”

Indeed, the Mountaineers did jump off to a lead against Kansas and seemed to have things going their way, just as they did against Baylor, but it all came tumbling down in a shambles.

True, this young team has had a total inability to adjust as teams adjusted to them, a sign of inexperience and also seemingly signifying a lack of basketball instincts, yet as bad as this is the biggest deficiency has been an ability to put the ball in the basket.

If anything is why they enter this game with a 13-16 record and 6-10 conference mark and looking at becoming the first Bob Huggins team to lose five straight games, that is it. He lost four in a row previously in his first year as a Division I coach at Akron in 1984-85.

That’s right, before any player on this year’s team was born.

This team shoots just 40.1 percent for the season ... and it was not anticipated.

“I’m not trying to say this as a negative, but our sophomores have shot 10-12 percentage points lower than a year ago and we didn’t get the impact from the transfers,” he said.

There is little reason to think they should be able to go to Norman and beat Oklahoma. The Sooners already own two victories over WVU this year, winning 77-70 for third place in the Old Spice Classic in November and then in the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 Conference game on Jan. 5, taking a 67-57 decision at the Coliseum.

The Sooners were stunned by Texas two games back in a dismal performance but bounced back with a record-setting effort against Iowa State, taking and making 34 free throws in the game to tie the NCAA record for consecutive free throws made in a single game.

Only Samford in 1990 and UC-Irvine in 1981 had made 34 straight free throws in a game.

“This group shot free throws pretty well during the season,” Coach Lon Kruger said Monday. “I don’t think anyone realized there was a streak during the game. When you are making free throws it makes it easier to make them.”

Senior forward Romero Osby, who was a 63 percent free throw shooter during his days at Mississippi State before transferring to Oklahoma, went 10-for-10 and now is shooting 80.1 percent from the free throw line this year.

“You want to make them all, but I didn’t really realize that we hadn’t missed,” he said. “I just wanted to focus.”

It was Osby who held a team meeting after the unexpected loss to Texas and got the team straightened out, a move that impressed Coach Kruger.

“It’s a lot more effective when it comes from player to player than from coach to player,” Kruger said. “Players expect us to say certain things. It carries a lot more weight.”

Osby has come on strong as he has gotten more playing time due to injury lately for the Sooners.

“He’s a hard matchup for any 4-man to guard. He bounces it so well and he can make shots, obviously,” Huggins said.

What Huggins would like to do would be to get some inside production against Oklahoma. In the first game guard Juwan Staten had 15 points and guard Gary Browne 13, and in the second game Terry Henderson led with 21 points, while Jabarie Hinds scored 11 and Staten had 10.

Deniz Kilicli was the only big to score in double figures with 13 in the first game.

Eron Harris, who has proved himself to be a scorer as the season has worn on, has been dreadful against Oklahoma, hitting just one of 10 shots in two games.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.