Defensive struggles lead to loss vs. OU

When West Virginia came into this season, it knew it was going to have to do the things it was going to be good at and overcome its shortcomings if it wanted to have a successful season.

For the Mountaineers, that meant using its effort and defense to make up for the fact that they don't have the shooters from the perimeter who can consistently knock down shots as they did a year ago. And so far it has worked.

Even after a 19-point loss at the hands of Oklahoma Tuesday night in Norman, West Virginia is 18-4 and is one of the best teams in the Big 12 this season. But it became pretty clear quickly that WVU wasn't having the type of night it wanted to have shooting the ball - and it also couldn't find a way to get stops on the defensive end of the floor.

That's a recipe for disaster with this year's team, without a doubt, and it was a big reason why the Sooners were able to win as convincingly as they did.

You have to give West Virginia some credit before delving into the defensive struggles a bit more, though. The Mountaineers appeared to be dead in the water pretty quickly as OU just seemed to keep building on its lead. But if there is one thing we saw from this team Tuesday that has been consistent with what has happened the rest of the year up to this point, it was the fact that the Mountaineers didn't quit. When other WVU teams in the past might have gotten down on themselves and hung their heads and kept falling behind more and more with each passing minute, this group continued playing harder than ever and looked determined to make it a game again - and even cut the lead to less than 10 points at points in the second half.

But that grit and determination, while it's definitely a good sign, will only get you so far. At the end of the day, with the type of pressure defense the Mountaineers play, it's a style that is very high-risk, high-reward. When you overplay and you press teams as much as WVU does, there's a great chance that teams are going to be able to get back cuts, find ways to get easy layups in transition and do other things to break the press and get points while not being challenged much. It's a reason Huggins has said multiple times in press conferences when asked why more people don't do what West Virginia has done. Not everyone wants to run the risk of giving up that many easy chances.

The Sooners got those chances Tuesday, and it killed the Mountaineers.

In the first half, when the game was going back and forth and WVU was still in it early on, the Sooners started an important run in which they extended their lead from 16-11 to 34-15. It was a stretch of nine minutes in which OU made six of the seven shot attempts it took from the field. And all of those shots were either open, uncontested layups or dunks. And as a whole, the Sooners shot 61.4 percent from the field.

This won't be a norm for WVU the rest of the way this season, and this is by no means a game that will do significant damage to this team heading down the stretch. But a pattern has started that shows ways to get to West Virginia and break the press that has haunted so many teams this season. WVU will have to find a way to recover, bounce back and get back on the right track before this weekend when another ranked team comes into Morgantown.

The road doesn't get any easier from here.


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