The final stretch of West Virginia men’s basketball’s season is afoot as the Mountaineers host Oklahoma in a Big 12 matchup at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday.
Bob Huggins’s squad will be looking to take a win back from the Sooners after falling in Norman, 69-59. That contest saw WVU take a season-high 76 shots, making just 24 of them — resulting in, coincidentally, a season-low field goal percentage of 31.6 percent. Included in that stat are 20 missed layups throughout the contest.
“[Missing those layups] was the game,” Huggins said. “We make half of those, we’d win the game going away. We didn’t….It was laying on the rim, and came off, and rolled around the rim where it generally goes in, and it didn’t, and [Oklahoma] played well. They’re good.”
Since facing the Mountaineers, Oklahoma has racked up three wins and two losses, with those defeats coming at the hands of Kansas and Baylor. The wins, on the other hand, come at an average margin of 20 points.
The victory for OU over the Mountaineers also seemed to have sparked some improvements for individual Sooners, especially Kristian Doolittle. The senior forward was deadly against West Virginia, scoring 27 points. That seemed to spark a hot streak for him, following that up with two more 20-plus point games followed by three with double-figure scoring totals as he took the title of leading scorer for OU.
The man he overtook, Brady Manek, seems to have simultaneously found a cold spell. He made 41.9 percent of his three-pointers before facing the Mountaineers, but since, he’s made just 23 percent while missing all 9 attempts over the last two contests.
Of course, the Mountaineers haven’t been automatic from the field themselves. They have made 41 percent of their shots in conference play, but sit at the bottom of the Big 12 in three-point shooting in that span with a mark of just 26.6 percent. With that knowledge, WVU will try to get the ball inside to generate points.
“I would take our chances of finishing from two feet over our ability to make threes at this point in time,” Huggins said. “I mean, if we’re not the worst, we’re certainly close to being the worst three-point shooting team in the league, and we’ve had pretty good looks. I want our guys to shoot them if they’re open….I just can’t believe that between Oscar [Tshiebwe], Derek [Culver], and Logan [Routt] and Gabe [Osabuohien] that we can’t score enough in the paint.”
On top of that, Huggins hopes that the inside play will put the Sooners in foul trouble. That may be tough, as they commit the fewest fouls in the conference.
Currently, West Virginia sits in sixth in the Big 12 with a 7-8 conference record, which ties them with Oklahoma and Texas. The trio are two games behind the current third-seed Texas Tech and seven behind top seeds Kansas and Baylor. However, TCU is just a game behind the Mountaineers. The top six seeds in the conference receive a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament.
Rod Thorn’s jersey to be retired at halftime
West Virginia basketball legend Rod Thorn will have his jersey retired at halftime of this contest.
A native of Princeton, West Virginia, thorn played three years on the Mountaineers’ varsity team between 1960-1963, averaging 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds in his career while donning the No. 44 shirt before getting selected second overall in the 1963 NBA Draft.
His professional career lasted nearly a decade, but arguably his biggest impact on the basketball came after his retirement as an executive. As the Chicago Bulls’ general manager in the 1984 NBA Draft, he selected a guard out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan with the No. 3 overall pick.
Thorn continued his work in basketball in the subsequent decades, with notable distinctions including acting as chairman for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team Selection Committee for the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, as well as the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams. He would even be named the Director of Basketball Operations for the NBA in 2013 before getting the ultimate distinction of an induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Where to watch
Action at the Coliseum gets underway at 4 p.m. on ESPN2. Tickets are still available on StubHub.com, the official fan-to-fan marketplace of WVU Athletics.
Can’t watch? Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs will have the radio call on the Mountaineer Sports Network by Learfield IMG, while we have live coverage of the game right here on WVIllustrated.com and on social media.