West Virginia Tries To Rebound, Even Season Series With The Sooners

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The match-up against Oklahoma is not a complicated one for West Virginia.

It requires the same fortitude and desire to play as the rest of the Big 12 slate. If the Mountaineers can showcased some semblance of want-to in terms of rebounding, attacking offensively and slowing OU via the press and an ability to at least thwart the rim pressure of guard Jordan Woodard, the Mountaineers should be able to top a Sooners squad that shows just one other conference victory besides the win in Morgantown.

"Yeah, generally. But I think they said that," head coach Bob Huggins said of if the practice exertion forecasts effort in games. "That was what was from them. I think mine was 'How can you work as hard as we work and get ready to play and then not play?' There are definitely times they practice better at times than other times with a whole lot better jump in their step and that's generally a clue."

So what's the ruling on the recent sessions?

"We watched a lot of film yesterday and went a lot more 5-on-5 yesterday that what we probably normally do," Huggins said. "We are still trying to stop things and point things out that were hurting us. I wouldn't say there's more intensity. It's hard to stop and start and stop and start. They are a lot better when you go whole-part-whole when you show them what you want and then break it down."

There's little question West Virginia must be more assertive. The Mountaineers failed to rebound and execute basic play in the loss to Oklahoma State on the backs of similar performances that also showed less than stellar strain. In the first match-up against Oklahoma, WVU gave up length of the floor lay-in to Woodard that was the difference in a game the Mountaineers led by 15 points against a 17-point underdog. The final bucket was part of a 20-point, five-assist and four-steal performance by Woodard that also included five turnovers.

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The senior's ability to attack West Virginia's interior within both the halfcourt and pressure sets was largely the difference as Woodard forced defenses to collapse, opening jump shots and passes on the block that led to easy lay-ins from teammates. That resulted in a 48-36 advantage in points in the paint in a game in which the Sooners shot better than 49 percent from the field, six percentage points higher than their season average, which ranks last in the league. Oklahoma also forced WVU into 13 turnovers while committing just a dozen themselves. That's often been the story in the series games, as head coach Lon Kruger's teams have handled the press well and won four of the last five meetings.

"We didn't guard him," Huggins said of Woodard's performance. "We were constantly in retreat mode, which is not our persona."

Woodard remains Oklahoma's leading scorer with an average of 15.4 points per game, good for seventh most in the Big 12. With fellow guards Kameron McGusty (10.3 ppg) and Rashard Odomes (10.1 ppg) both over 10 points per game, the entire Sooners' backcourt is reaching double figures. Forwards Kristian Doolittle and Khadeem Lattin both average more than eight points and have the ability to handle the ball, which has allowed OU to execute against West Virginia despite its bottom-of-the-Big 12 assist-to-turnover ratio (0.8).

The Sooners (8-14, 2-8) have lost five in a row since beating WVU on Jan. 18. The No. 13 Mountaineers (18-5, 6-4) have split their last six games to fall out of the top 10. Still, many pundits have West Virginia as a three seed with eight regular season games left, including a pair against top 10 teams.

"From what I have saw and heard, I think they have us at a three seed now," Huggins said. "Certainly winning out would move us up. Baylor is a one seed and Kansas is a one seed. We'd have to beat out two one seeds, both on the road."


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