Kevin Kinder \ BlueGoldNews.com

West Virginia Looks For Sweep Against Nation's Top Rated Teams At Oklahoma On Saturday

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - What's arguably harder than beating the No. 1 team at home? Besting the second-rated team on the road.

Such is the task for No. 11 West Virginia, when it travels to face No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday in a 4 p.m. tip on ESPN2. The Sooners' (14-1, 3-1) lone loss came Jan. 5 at Kansas, when the Jayhawks prevailed 109-106 in three overtimes. Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield scored a career-high 46 points, 24 on three-pointers, and played all but one minute of the 55 in the contest. No other Sooner scored more than 27 points, those coming from guard Jordan Woodard, and that best illustrates the main difference that could rear its head down the stretch: Oklahoma lacks the sheer numbers of West Virginia and Kansas, and might become fatigued, and ultimately reliant on just a few players, as the season progresses.

The depth issue hasn't yet showcased itself, however, and the simple change of venue has the Mountaineers expecting a more difficult game than the one in which it controlled KU nearly from the start in a 74-63 win at the Coliseum on Tuesday. After Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams led West Virginia - which forced Kansas into a season-high 22 turnovers - to the marquee victory, head coach Bob Huggins awarded the team the following day off. The Mountaineers then practiced Thursday before flying to Oklahoma today.

With WVU (15-1, 4-0) leading the Big 12 and threatening to move two games up on Oklahoma with a third road league  win as a kicker, Huggins was asked if the game indeed takes on any additional meaning than others during the regular season. It's a legit thought easily backed by the various metrics in play, but also one dispelled by the same mathematics that note a single win is just that: One win, and nothing more.

"You would think it would be a confidence builder, but our guys have been pretty good about going in to so-called hostile places and playing pretty well," Huggins said. "I think our first true road game was Virginia Tech, and the next was Kansas State. Kansas State has been a great home team, and we hung in there - didn't play well - but just kept hanging around and won in double overtime. I don't think confidence has ever been a problem with this group.

"We have always been a pretty good road team. We don't talk about it much. We were a pretty good road team in the Big East, and a pretty good road team in the Big 12. In this league, it's very difficult to go to Ames and win. Baylor has done that. Does that give them an advantage? Probably. But at first, we were the only road team that won, and we had two. Then the next (week), a lot of road teams won."

The add-on to the above question is that, should West Virginia win, would it have a legit argument as to taking the top spot? That would require a jump of nine teams in the Coaches Poll and 10 in the Associated Press.

"We really haven't talked about that," Huggins said. "We are trying to do what we have been doing and stay on an even keel. We had a good practice yesterday and anticipate having another good one today and get ready. Honestly, I haven't paid a whole lot of attention. We spend our time when we don't have other things to do more watching film than watching what goes on around the country."

They key for West Virginia is the same in this game as others: Get more shots. Everything else is little more than a corollary. The idea of committing 10 turnovers or fewer while forcing the other team into the teens and 20s? Designed to get more shots. The offensive rebounding prowess? More shots. Crashing the glass on the other end? More shots. It's all about more shots, more chances, more opportunities to put the ball in the bucket, and keep the opponent from doing so as frequently. And with Oklahoma hitting a red-hot 46.1 percent from three-point range, contesting those shots and not allowing the few misses to turn into second-chance points is imperative.

"I can't speak for them, but it's huge for us," Huggins said. "We live on getting more shots than our opposition."

Woodard and Hield are both making more than half of their threes, at 55.1 and 51.8 percent, respectively. Two others, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, are hitting at 42 percent clips. As a comparison, no Mountaineer is shooting better than Jevon Carter's 39.1 percent. OU also leads West Virginia in overall field goal percentage at 47.9 to 47 percent, but WVU gets more shots per game, and that must happen again in Norman. Much like Kansas, Oklahoma also likes to play a flowing style, free of contact, which could also help the Mountaineers.

"Hield, he might be the Player of the Year, but I think Woodard is good," Huggins said. "Spangler is having a good year. Khadeem Lattin has been terrific for them.  He does a great job of moving without the ball, he rebounds it for them and he's a great rim protector. You can take more chances defensively when you have a guy back there protecting the basket."

Lattin, a 6-9, 208-pound sophomore, has a team-best 33 blocks while shooting 60.6 percent and averaging the second-most rebounds at 6.9 per game. After the starting five, however, the minutes drop significantly, as just one OU reserve has averaged more than 10 minutes.

"They've got some sets, some things they do in certain situations, but I think they just do a really good job of playing baskeball," Hugggins said. "They get into it a bit differently at times, but it ends up being mostly the same."


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