By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian
Jerry West, the greatest basketball player in West Virginia University history, will tell you that he hasn’t given up on the inconsistent men’s team at his alma mater.
The West Virginia native, now in his third year as an official and advisor with the NBA’s contending Golden State Warriors, watches many of the Mountaineers’ games on television at his home in Los Angeles.
“Obviously, I want to see them win,” West said in a recent phone interview. “The Mountaineers have lost a lot of really tough games to some really good teams this year.
“I understand they have some problems — real problems — at times. But I think they have some good young players there, and I see they’re improving.”
West, a three-year superstar at WVU in 1958-59-60, said he has seen the Mountaineers at their shooting best and also at their poorest. He emphasized that there’s more pressure on the players when the team isn’t shooting very well.
“When you take bad shots, they usually and normally run out on you and make easy baskets in transition,” West said. “They get wide-open shots.
“Players get fouled, or they get wide-open shots. That’s why a lot of people take 3-point shots even though they’re not open.
“It’s simply easier to play offense when you take the ball off the basket that way.”
West admittedly has seen some WVU players shoot the ball very well and some who don’t shoot very well at times — in games he has watched.
“But one thing is they really get after people defensively,” he exclaimed. “The Mountaineers generally keep games close. But they lost some really close games this year — some on bad breaks — and that takes a toll on everybody. But I’ve found that breaks even out over time.
“When that happens, it takes a toll on players and coaches. But I see those young players getting better and better.”
West said he saw a couple of recent games in which WVU could have won with “just a better break here or there.”
Meantime, Jerry West may well be tuned in when West Virginia (13-9, 5-4 Big 12) hosts No. 21-ranked Oklahoma (17-5, 6-3) at 7 p.m. today in the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers, seeking a third straight victory, face another chief challenge.
The Sooners rank 10th nationally in scoring, averaging 83.5 points per game.
The Mountaineers have yielded 70 or more points in 13 games so far this year.
This game against Oklahoma shapes up as one of the biggest for WVU in its short existence in the Big 12. Winning would tie the Mountaineers for third place with the Sooners in the league standings.
What’s more, that would end the school’s 16-game losing streak against nationally ranked teams.
So there’s obviously a lot on the line for West Virginia at home tonight. The setting hardly could be any better.
After this contest, WVU has four on the road and the other four at home remaining on the regular-season schedule.
One will be a rematch with the Sooners on March 5 at Norman, Okla.