By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If West Virginia University is ever going to pull off a Big 12 upset, Saturday is the day.
That’s when No. 14 Oklahoma State comes into the Coliseum for the first time, coming off an emotionally draining, 68-67, double-overtime home loss to Kansas.
The Cowboys had come into the game riding a seven-game winning streak that had put them into a three-way tie for first place in the conference with Kansas and Kansas State as the week started. K-State’s win over WVU and Kansas’ victory in this game dropped the Cowboys to third while the two Kansas teams are tied for first place.
That Oklahoma State lost at home hurt badly. How they lost really had to have sapped them, for they led by a point entering the closing seconds of a game that had been so hotly contested through regulation and two overtimes that it had been tied 16 times with no lead exceeding five points.
To add more misery, the winning shot came from 5-11 sophomore Naadir Tharpe, who had missed nine of 10 shots with four turnovers until he took the Cowboys’ Phil Forte into the lane and scored on him.
The result is coach Travis Ford faces a difficult coaching assignment, getting his team ready to play after a difficult loss while going on the road to face a team that has nothing to lose in terms of the conference race and is trying to salvage some respect from the season.
“A very hard fought game ... very hard fought game,” said Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford following the game. “I’ve got no complaints. They made the last shot. ... No lie, it was a down locker room. Those were two teams that wanted to win pretty bad.”
WVU will be a team hungering for the upset, of that you can be sure.
In conference play this season, WVU has won every game played against the teams below the Mountaineers while failing to beat any team ranked above them in the standings.
In fact, the Mountaineers are winless against the top 60 RPI teams, losing all 10 of their starts against them.
“We’re due,” coach Bob Huggins said following his team’s loss at Kansas State on Monday.
It is almost certain that the Mountaineers are down to one chance to reach the NCAA Tournament, and considering the fact that they have not beaten any of the better teams in the conference to date it would appear to be an extreme long shot, for the only path left open is to win the Big 12 Tournament.
Huggins, as you might expect, is looking at that avenue.
“I don’t know that it’s over,” he said at K-State. “Who knows? We may make a run and win the Big 12 Tournament.”
And the Pirates may win the World Series … but you probably wouldn’t want to bet a month’s pay on it.
In the first meeting between the two teams at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys prevailed, 80-66, getting their boost from an unexpected source, with Forte breaking loose for an unprecedented 26-point game.
Forte hit six 3-point shots in the game as the Mountaineers had no defensive answer for him.
It would be expected that will change in a second game, especially one in Morgantown.
“Any time you play someone for the second time, it’s always a great challenge when you won the first game,” Ford said. “They want to change things.”
It happened in the Kansas game, OSU having beaten the Jayhawks earlier in the season to send them spinning off on a rare three-game losing streak, correcting enough to come back to win the return engagement.
And now Ford is facing a similar situation, with a dangerous WVU team playing on its home court and willing to make adjustments to find a way to score points.
WVU has made one adjustment in its use of Deniz Kilicli, who has become the featured player in the offense and who has been playing his best basketball of the season down the stretch of his senior year.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.