And perhaps that's all that matters in this listless, lulling stage of the season. Combine the Big 12's parity with the idea that teams are mentally fatigued and not yet dialed into the postseason, and simply finding a way to win is a successful night. Sure, the ideal is to improve each week, if not each day, and build toward conference tournament play and securing seeding, if not a regular season championship. But in a grinder of a game, the Mountaineers felt their way through and used a late push to get past Oklahoma 61-50 and secure their first win in five tries at the Lloyd Noble Center.
Chalk that up as one for the left hand column, if not much more. On full display were the same problems that have plagued West Virginia before. There were periods of stagnation, lack of interior scoring, times of being unable to attack the rim or convert inside the arc. There was very little flow within the structure of the motion sets, with players watching the ball handler, or a pass or screen with no others moving on the floor. That led to a period at the 16-minute mark of the second half when both teams had higher percentages from three-point range than they did inside the arc. The Mountaineers missed 18-of-24 shots inside (75 percent), while OU misfired on 16-of-20 (80 percent).
There were positives. On the flip side, West Virginia forced nearly double the turnovers it had in the first game, getting Oklahoma to commit 23 miscues after just 12 in the first series game, an 89-87 overtime Sooners win. That led to 27 points, as compared to just nine for OU on 14 WVU turnovers. WVU got beat on the boards by five, but did manage more second chance points and a tie in points in the paint. That was largely because of the defense, which guarded more effectively, if not efficiently, than it did in the home defeats to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The Sooners (8-15, 2-9) took six fewer shots than West Virginia, and had lesser percentages from the floor, three-point range and the foul line.
That, combined with the rim protection of Sagaba Konate and a late flurry of off a series of steals by Tarik Phillip, were enough to boost the No. 13 Mountaineers (19-5, 7-4) to their fourth win in five games. Konate finished with a career-high five blocks while Phillip and Jevon Carter each had four steals, and Beetle Bolden came of the bench to score a career-high 17 points as WVU advanced to 5-2 in true road games this season.
"We did a better job guarding the ball, we did a better job in pressure," head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "We did a much, much better job on the defensive end. And when Sags came in he was much better guarding the basket. We struggled on offense. It's hard when there's so much contact to run clean offense, and then we didn't do a very good job of finding open guys. Guys don't get open very often and when they do you have to find them. We hadn't made a shot. I swear, some days I think I could kick as many in. That was the strategy. We wanted to throw it close (in the second half). It didn't work as well as I had hoped it would work."
West Virginia also managed to limit Oklahoma's most explosive threat in guard Jordan Woodard. Woodard lit up West Virginia for 20 points, five assists and four steals - with five turnovers - in the initial series game while scoring the deciding points on an end-to-end drive with two seconds left. After shooting 8-for-17 from the floor in the first game, Woodard missed 9-of-11 shots from the floor, including all five three-pointers. He finished with just six points with one assist and five turnovers.
"We did what we were suppose to do in Morgantown: We wore him down," Huggins said. "J.C. Did a good job, Tarik had him for awhile. Beetle had him for awhile. It's hard to fight that pressure the whole game. We were trying to make him work and instead of running and doubling him like we did in Morgantown, to make him work.
"I think it's the fact that we started playing again," Huggins added of the defensive side. "We didn't guard (against OSU and OU at home). Maybe we have got comfortable that we are going to win at home and that certainly hasn't been the case. We have to get ready to play on Saturday. That's a huge game for us."
The Mountaineers, looking to remain in sole possession of third place in the Big 12, play host to Kansas State on Saturday at Noon. The Wildcats (16-8, 5-6) beat WVU 79-75 in Manhattan on Jan. 21. K-State has lost four of its last five, but will enter having four full days between their last game, a 74-71 home loss to No. 3 Kansas.