The WVU men’s basketball team will play its final road game of the regular season Wednesday night in Norman, Okla. as the Mountaineers try to knock off the No. 23 Oklahoma Sooners for the second time this season.
West Virginia (16-13, 8-8 Big 12) edged out a 91-86 overtime win over Oklahoma (21-8, 10-6) Feb. 5 at the WVU Coliseum after travel complications delayed the Sooners’ arrival in Morgantown until approximately 90 minutes prior to tipoff.
“West Virginia beat us earlier at their place and we know how tough they are,” said Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger. “Bob (Huggins) does a great job, so (there is) no problem getting our guys to understand how well we have to play to have a chance to win.”
The two teams have been on slightly different trajectories in the month since that early February meeting, as the Mountaineers lost four of their next six, while Oklahoma won four of its next six to regain its place in the national rankings.
Oklahoma is 13-3 at home this season, including a 6-2 record in conference play.
The Sooners also feature the second-ranked offense in the Big 12, which is also good for No. 11 in the country at over 82 points per game.
All five Oklahoma starters are averaging double figures on the season, led by sophomore guard Buddy Hield who averages 16.7 points per game.
Sophomore forward Ryan Spangler is nearly averaging a double-double on the season, averaging 10.1 points per game and a Big 12-leading 9.6 rebounds per contest.
“Ryan’s been fantastic,” Kruger said. “Obviously, he’s a terrific rebounder and has done a very good job for us there. His offensive abilities have improved consistently throughout the year, and he’s given us a bunch on that that end, too. But most importantly, it’s just his competitiveness, his toughness. He’s really elevated our other guys in those areas.”
West Virginia, meanwhile, hasn’t been as consistently successful on offense, but has indeed proven to be a dangerous team when they are clicking on that end, especially from the perimeter.
“It just comes down to us making some shots,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “We don’t score close so we’ve really got to make some shots. When we’ve made them, we’ve been very competitive. When we haven’t, we’ve struggled.”
The numbers support Huggins’ statement. West Virginia has shot 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from behind the arc in its 16 wins compared to just 38 percent from the floor and 33 percent from three-point range in its 13 losses.
Junior guard Juwan Staten and sophomore guard Eron Harris lead the Mountaineers at 18 points per game apiece, trailing only Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim (18.9 ppg) in the Big 12. The tandem also combined for 48 points against the Sooners in February.
It’s not clear yet at this point if sophomore guard Terry Henderson – WVU’s other double-figure scorer, who has missed three straight games with illness – will be able to return to action Wednesday night in Norman. Henderson returned to WVU’s bench Saturday afternoon for the first time in the win over TCU but was dressed in street clothes.
The Sooners are the sixth ranked team WVU will have faced in its last eight games. However, the Mountaineers are just 1-5 against AP-ranked teams this season and haven’t won a road game against a ranked opponent since January 2011 when they beat No. 13 Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
West Virginia will also conclude its regular season schedule with yet another ranked opponent in No. 8 Kansas Saturday, but the Mountaineers are being careful not to get ahead of themselves.
“We’re not looking ahead to Kansas right now,” Staten said. “We’re just looking forward to playing Oklahoma at Oklahoma. We know it’s going to be a tough game. They’re going to have payback on their mind for what happened here.
“We’re just going to attack practice like it’s a normal practice and prepare for Oklahoma. Go out there, get a win and then look forward to the next game.”