Third Time Hardly A Charm

Third Time Hardly A Charm

For the first time in seemingly a long time, West Virginia's players could honestly say they had fought. But even moral victories still go in the books as losses.

The Mountaineers dug themselves a massive early deficit, falling behind by as many as 17 points in the first half, before getting within as few as four in the second half. But Oklahoma went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes and pulled away for a 83-70 victory at Lloyd Noble Center on Wednesday night.

It was the third time this season the Sooners had knocked off WVU -- the first time any team has beaten West Virginia three times in the same season since Villanova did so in 1998-99.

"You know, as I've said many, many times, it's my fault," coach Bob Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network. "At the end of the day, I'm the guy responsible for putting my signature on the letter of intent. I'm the one responsible, and I've got to fix it.

"You just don't think that guys who play tons of minutes as freshmen are going to be way worse as sophomores. You just don't. That's never happened in my whole career. You think they're going to get better and better, and obviously we haven't."

BlueGoldNews.com
Player of the Game
Eron Harris
23 points
Five 3-pointers
4 rebounds

For the Mountaineers (13-17, 6-11 Big 12), it was their fifth consecutive loss, matching the program's longest such streak of futility since the 2004-05 season. That year, WVU fought its way back to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Barring a miracle run in next week's Big 12 Tournament, that won't be a possibility for this group.

It looked like West Virginia might be on its way to a miraculous comeback of sorts in this game, putting together an 18-5 run that spanned the end of the first half and the beginning stages of the second, bringing a 37-20 OU lead down to four points at 42-38 on a Deniz Kilicli basket.

The Sooners (20-9, 11-6) pushed the lead back out to 13 points, but another Mountaineer run, capped by another Kilicli score -- a vintage running hook -- made the score 68-64 entering the final minutes.

But defensive breakdowns and second-chances proved costly for WVU, as Oklahoma immediately went on an 8-0 run -- with Andrew Fitzgerald scoring the first five points of the spurt -- to remove any doubt about the outcome as time waned.

"Think about this game: that's what killed us -- constant penetration in the lane," Huggins said. "It's like a highway to the basket. You know, that kills us. We work on it every single day.

"You go back to before, and Truck Bryant couldn't guard the ball, but he learned to. Joe Mazzulla was awful on the ball, but he learned to. Darris Nichols. Alex Ruoff. You go right down the line. But they came in and they worked at it."

This group, though, continued to frustrate its head coach. Huggins said the team's scouting report was focused on several keys to the game: not allowing OU's big men to drive to the right, not allowing the Sooners to get to the line and not allowing them to get second-chance points.

Give the Mountaineers an "F" grade in all three of those categories. Oklahoma shot 27 free throws to WVU's 13. The hosts finished with a 23-8 edge in second-chance points (thanks to 14 offensive rebounds). And the big men -- particularly OU's Romero Osby -- had a field day.

Osby scored a game-high 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He added seven free throws on eight attempts. Guard Steven Pledger tallied 23 points, making five 3-pointers in the process, and also registered eight rebounds. Fellow guard Sam Grooms finished with eight points and 10 assists.

"We've lost three games to Oklahoma because they have just absolutely kicked our behinds on the offensive glass," Huggins said. "Just kicked our behinds. They did it again. The frustrating thing is we didn't block them out. It doesn't matter who you put in the game. I say, ‘Can you block them out? If I put you in, will you block out?' ‘Oh yeah, Coach. Yeah, yeah.' Then they don't block out. That's not a hard skill. It's really not a hard skill."

For West Virginia, guard Eron Harris scored 23 points, making five 3-pointers of his own. Forward Deniz Kilicli finished with 20, including his team's last 10 points of the first half to keep the game reasonably close -- WVU trailed 39-28 -- at the intermission.

The Mountaineers shot 52.9 percent from the field but were undone by the disparity at the foul line and in giving up too many second-chance buckets.

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