Full-court press: West Virginia

Mountaineers' pressure comes to Norman to disrupt Sooners' win streak

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2014-15 season.

No. 15 West Virginia (18-3, 6-2) at No. 21 Oklahoma (14-7, 5-4)

When: 7 p.m. CST

TV/Radio: ESPN2/107.7 FM(OKC); 1430 AM (Tulsa); XM 91; Sirius 91

Series: Oklahoma, 5-3

Breaking down the press

Beating the West Virginia defense is as much mental as it is physical.

Physically making the right pass and not delaying too much in the decision process; mentally understanding that turnovers will happen and being able to respond when they do.

It sure helps that Oklahoma has seen the Mountaineers’ defense before.

“Even though you can try to simulate it in practice, you really can’t,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “We’re trying to simulate it in practice again now that the players have seen it live. So, we’ll see. Hopefully, it helps us handle it better the second time.”

Oklahoma is doing things a little bit differently this time around. They’re not just using the scout team. On occasion Monday afternoon in the final practice before Tuesday’s game, Kruger was using his rotation players to simulate the press.

Talented freshmen Jamuni McNeace and Dante Buford were out there playing for the scout team as well.

“Around the country, most guys don’t see that kind of team every year, that always push you around,” Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield said. “We’ve got to be up for the challenge. This game right here will make or break us. We have a good streak going on. We’ve got to come in and knock them back early, and I feel like we’ll be OK.”

Kruger has seen this type of pressure before, back when he was coaching at Florida and Norm Richardson was swarming the country with his ‘40 minutes of Hell’ defense.

There are some differences, Kruger said, but there are still many similarities.

“The base of what they do is they don’t let you run any offense,” Kruger said. “They keep you out of doing what you do every day in practice. It’s been effective for them. They’re very active, very aggressive.”

Being at home could make a significant difference for Oklahoma.

“It’s going to help us out, because their fans aren’t going to be able to get into it,” Oklahoma point guard Jordan Woodard said. “Our fans are going to keep us on the right even-keel page.”

Emulating West Virginia

During the past two games, Oklahoma has found a way to copy the best part of the Mountaineers’ scheme while still maintaining the best of its offense.

The Sooners have amassed 56 points off turnovers in games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. But they’ve kept their shooting percentage high. This season, West Virginia has shot 41.7 percent from the field (second-worst in the Big 12) because of its hectic pace and has the worst field goal percentage defense in the Big 12.

“A lot of times when you turn it over, you’ve got an advantage right away,” Kruger said. “You’ve got numbers going the other way. Obviously that’s what West Virginia does extremely well.

“A big key in the game will be us trying to score points off their turnovers and trying to limit what they get off ours. But that’s what they do really well.”

Oklahoma is shooting 46.8 percent during the past two games and has a +11 turnover margin.

Getting that swagger back

As he came walking over to talk to the media Monday, Hield was singing a strange tune – a Bahamian reggae song that no one had ever heard before.

He clearly felt good, and it’s obvious after back-to-back wins, Oklahoma is feeling pretty good as well. It’s a far cry from the sorrow felt during a four loss stretch in just five games.

“It’s great to have a couple wins in a row in this league,” Kruger said. “When you can do that, it’s a good thing. Guys obviously have a great deal of respect for what West Virginia is doing, and what they did to us there. We didn’t handle it like we have to. Guys understand how strong we’ve got to be.”

The Sooners felt this way before after routing Red River rival Texas to open the conference season with back-to-back victories. They ventured into the land of overconfidence at that point and were bitten by it.

Whether it’s just a mirror image is yet to be seen. Oklahoma doesn’t seem to think so.

“We’re starting to get it now,” Hield said. “We’re playing tougher on defense and we’re ready to get after this game. They embarrassed us the last game, and we’ve done a great job the last couple days of practice trying to get ready for them.”

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