On Big Monday, No. 17 Oklahoma (16-7, 6-5) took another big step back. After coming off a loss against Texas, the Sooners had a chance to right the ship and maintain their position in the Big 12 regular season title chase against No. 19 West Virginia (18-6, 7-4). Instead, Bob Huggins’ and Press Virginia came to Norman and left with a 75-73 win, solidifying Oklahoma’s spot as fourth in the Big 12 and now two games back of Kansas.
“It’s that time of year in the Big 12,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger said about the team’s energy after the third game in seven nights. “Everyone feels pretty much the same. You’re gonna have stretches that are challenging.
“I don’t think that was the problem. I think they were more physical in the first half. We matched the effort in the second half much better. No one complained about being tired or anything.”
Trae Young was reportedly under the weather, but no one would have known. He started the game off 3-of-5 overall for eight points, and finished the first half with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-6 from behind the 3-point line. The Sooners’ star did put on a show in the second half, and ended with 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including 4-of-10 from 3-point range.
“Like coach said, it’s that time of the year that you got to play through it,” Young said. “I wasn’t feeling very good, but I’m not going to make any excuses. I mean, that’s the nature of basketball. I’m going to go out there and compete and give it my all.”
The game had the life sucked out of it whenever Oklahoma and West Virginia started a combined 1-of-20 from the floor in the second half. The Sooners did receive open shots and made some, but the Mountaineers’ physicality inside and stingy defense forced Oklahoma into 15 turnovers and held them to only eight assists.
West Virginia forced Oklahoma to play without their primary ball-handler for most of the game. Young scored an efficient 32 points, but West Virginia held him to his lowest assist total of the season with Christian James, Rashard Odomes, or another guard or forward bringing the ball up the floor. Huggins’ never double-teamed any other guards in the backcourt unless it was Oklahoma’s star freshman, and even utilized a style of a box-and-one that played as a matchup zone to force the Sooners to be stagnant.
The Mountaineers executed their game plan of limiting Young’s playmaking ability. One of those that had a hard time getting going because of that was Brady Manek. Manek went only 1-of-4 from behind the arc, and was averaging four 3s for every six attempts a game at home in conference play coming into tonight. It was a tough night and a tough loss, but the freshman didn’t shy away from any question that was asked.
““I mean, I was open and Trae found me and I just wouldn’t knock ‘em down or finish strong at the rim,” Manek said about his game. “Just stupid things right there…(like) under the goal…and could’ve done better.”
As tough as it was, Oklahoma kept battling against a team that did have their number.
The momentum moved early in the game after a 14-0 run that gave West Virginia a 26-16 lead. Oklahoma chipped away until they got within two with 3:15 to go in the first half. The Mountaineers exploded to another double-digit lead before half after Jevon Carter went 94 feet to hit a shot right before the buzzer.
While the game was dead, Oklahoma got as close as five before West Virginia pushed it back up to 11. The game had its ebbs and flows, but over the last eleven minutes, the Sooners made two plays for the Mountaineers every one.
Big Monday against “Press Virginia” culminated in a contested Rashard Odomes missed layup…which would have given Oklahoma its first chance to be a step ahead for the first time since the 12:20 in the first half.
“Well at times, when you make a shot at the end of it, it looks like it’s working,” Kruger said. “When you don’t make a shot, it looks like it’s not. It’s like anything with the game.
“But again, they forced that action. It looked like they were staying home on receivers and making Trae finish in the paint–which he did several times–but weren’t allowing him to drive and kick to teammates as much and made him finish in there.”
In the Big 12, there is no looking back. No. 17 Oklahoma has road trips to Ames, Iowa and Lubbock, Texas on deck, and both atmospheres will be as good or better than what this team has played in front of this season. The Sooners get five days before that trip to Hilton Coliseum, but as Rashard Odomes, Christian James, and others walked off the floor, anyone watching could sense that this one hurt a little bit more.
“Like all Big 12 games, hard-fought battle, extremely disappointed in the outcome, of course,” Kruger said in his opening statement following the loss. “Didn’t do the things in the first half to match their physicality and intensity level. I thought we fought a lot harder in the second half, but got to do that for 40 minutes. West Virginia’ good like all the teams in the Big 12, and we got to play better. We got to play better. Obviously disappointed to lose one at home, and we got to go play better on the road.”