Sooner or Later

West Virginia followed an all-too familiar pattern in dropping a 77-70 decision to Oklahoma in the third-place game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.

Bad shooting, poor offensive execution, indiscriminate fouling and uninspired defense have been problems for the Mountaineers all season, and both problems again showed up in the loss to what appeared to be a very average Oklahoma team on Sunday. WVU shot just 36.2% from the field (21-58), and that mark included another ugly performance from three-point range. West Virginia made just four of its 14 attempts from beyond the arc.

"You have to get shots over the rim," head coach Bob Huggins said afterward. "You have to get them up there. We missed ten free throws, and we can't throw it in the post if you know they won't make the free throws if they get fouled. We throw it in the paint four straight times and don't get a score."

Meanwhile, West Virginia's defensive pressure, which it relies on to get points, was mostly ineffective. WVU was able to force just ten Oklahoma turnovers, and allowed its opponent to make a solid 47.4% of its shot attempts. Oklahoma came into the game making just 38% of its tries.

West Virginia began the game as if it had learned some lessons from its previous misadventures in running offense. Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne penetrated the lane and dished the ball off for assists in the early going, and the Mountaineers built an early 14-10 lead. However, the familiar pattern of bogged-down offense and lackluster defense soon reasserted itself. OU went on a pair of 11-2 runs, giving the Sooners leads as big as 12 points late in the half.
Player of the Game
Gary Browne
13 points
10-11 FTs
2 assists
West Virginia's defense was abysmal for much of the opening period, as it allowed Oklahoma to score 42 points and shoot 50% from the field. The Sooners got more open shots in that period than they had all weekend in Orlando, and converted them routinely.

Huggins was particularly perturbed at West Virginia's apparent inability to digest a scouting report, delivered in several different sessions, that emphasized Oklahoma's tendency to overload the left side of the floor and empty the right side for drives to the basket.

"I yelled as loud as a I could, 'He's going right!' Huggins said of his reaction to WVU's poor response. "I wanted everyone in the building to know that we [had scouted them]. I told Deniz [Kilicli] that he, Dom [Rutledge] and Aaric Murray were the only three people in the gym that didn't know he was going right."

WVU did manage to cut that first half deficit to five points at halftime, but missed a chance to make it three when Terry Henderson couldn't control a long outlet pass from Aaric Murray or get a shot away as time expired.

Despite all of the miscues, WVU was able to at least stay within shouting distance of the Sooners, mostly on the strength of free throw shooting. West Virginia was 22-29 from the line until the final minutes, when a 2-5 finish dropped its overall percentage to 70%. Gary Browne led WVU from the line, making 10 of his 11 attempts.

Those chances allowed WVU to make several short surges, the last of which resulted in a 62-all tie. However, Oklahoma scored the next seven points and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Sooners were helped by a terrible call for a flagrant foul against Kilicli for an elbow, which was clearly not thrown on purpose, nor outside the frame of his body. That call allowed Oklahoma to top one Kilicli free throw with two of its own and keep the margin at seven points.

The Mountaineers were also hurt badly by their inability to execute in transition. The Mountaineers botched several chances to score on fast breaks, failing to make even the simplest of passes or finish two-on-one or three-on-one advantages. WVU missed several shots from close range and backed down from several other opportunities that could have resulted in points.

"We had three two-on-ones and didn't convert any of them," a frustrated Huggins said. "That's just bad basketball."

Things weren't much better in the halfcourt after the solid early start. WVU managed just eight assists, and again displayed a stunning inability to move the ball and find open shots.

On the other end, Oklahoma decimated West Virginia's interior defense, scoring 32 points in the paint. Fifteen of those came off offensive rebounds. West Virginia committed 21 fouls, and saw three of their four big men finish with four fouls.

"The bottom line is we're not mentally tough enough," Huggins summed up. "It's an every day thing."

Juwan Staten finished as West Virginia's high scorer, totaling 15 points on 5-8 shooting. Deniz Kilicli and Gary Browne each had 13, while Aaric Murray has eight points and nine rebounds. Keaton Miles had one of the best offensive performances of his career, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds in 23 minutes of action off the bench.

West Virginia next faces VMI on Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum.

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