Oklahoma Sooners focus heavily on beating West Virginia press

Turnovers woes must be corrected against 'Press Virginia'

Sooners Illustrated will present three things to watch before every men’s basketball game during the 2015-16 season.

No. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers (15-1, 4-0) at No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (13-1, 2-1)

TV/Radio: ESPN2/107.7 FM

Time: 3 p.m.

Series: Oklahoma, 6-3.

Cleaning up the turnovers

The Mountaineers are showing up on the schedule at about the worst time for Oklahoma, which has fallen ill in a bout with the turnover bug. The Sooners have committed 39 turnovers over the past two games and against two teams that aren’t exactly known for their pressure defense.

West Virginia on the other hand is well known for its press, leading the nation in turnovers forced and averaging 20.88 per game.

In preparation for the press, Oklahoma practiced against it heavily on Thursday and Friday – relying on six defenders to give a more hectic look.

“That is usually for West Virginia,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “No one else does things to the extent that West Virginia does. We’ll put a sixth guy out there just to make the receiver move and be available and make it harder to catch.”

At the root of the problem has been All-American guard Buddy Hield, who is second in the nation in scoring.

Hield has 21 turnovers in the past three games, something that’s not out of the ordinary because a team’s top player usually has the ball the most. But Hield’s career-high 10 turnovers came from him pressing too much. He emphatically declared that he wouldn’t commit 10 turnovers ever again.

“I just have to be more relaxed. I’ll be fine,” said Hield, who averaged less than two turnovers per game before this season’s 3.28-per game average. “. . . I need to do a better job, be stronger with the ball and drive to kick – driving and kicking to my teammates instead of over-attacking. I’ll be alright.

“We’ve got a good West Virginia team coming up. I’m sure we’ll be ready for that. They’ll come attacking us.”

Out of a slump, one possession at a time

Isaiah Cousins continued his slump through the first half against Oklahoma State but slowly began to thaw in the second half. In the first half of Bedlam, Cousins shot 1-for-5 – well in line with his 11-for-47 (23.4 percent) shooting skid since Christmas.

But then things got turned around in the second half. Cousins had started to make better decisions over the last two games, posting a 6-to-1 assists to turnover ratio against Kansas State, but his shot still wasn’t falling consistently.

Cousins went 3-for-6 from the field in the second half against Oklahoma State and scored in double figures for only the second time since Christmas – failing in three games.

“It was good to see Isaiah play more like himself in the second half,” Kruger said. “In the first half, he had some shots that didn’t quite go, but good to see him pick up his confidence a little bit.”

Before this current shooting slump, Cousins had failed to reach double figures scoring in three of the last 18 regular seasons games.

Playing for No. 1

It has been more than 25 years since Oklahoma was last ranked No. 1 in the country. But the Sooners have a very good chance to replicate the final regular season ranking of the 1989-90 season, when they also made a run to the Elite Eight.

Should Oklahoma win Saturday, it would likely take over the top spot in the country after Kansas lost Tuesday.

“Anytime you can get exposure it helps the fan base and helps recruiting and helps alumni,” Kruger said. “It helps everyone. But we’re a lot more concerned about West Virginia’s press and rebounding.”

Oklahoma could also be the consensus No.1-ranked team after Michigan State lost its second game of the season to Iowa. Oklahoma, Michigan State and Kansas were the only teams receiving first-place votes last week. Maryland was ranked third but also lost this week.

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