Climbing The Mountain: Pressure's On No. 3 Sooners In Morgantown

Friday, February 19th 2016, 6:07 pm
By: Brett Coppenbarger

It’s been almost two whole weeks since things have felt right around the No. 3 OU basketball team, as the Sooners have lost three of their last four games with two of those mishaps coming against Kansas State (15-11) and Texas Tech (16-9).

Those two losses are easy to pinpoint as disappointments, but it’s the two other games throughout that four-game span that should also warrant worry throughout Sooner Nation.

OU squeaked past rival Texas last week to notch it’s only win in 17 days thanks to another miraculous Buddy Hield moment, but its narrow loss to Kansas inside of Lloyd Noble which proved to be the most defining game of them all. The Sooners (20-5) desperately needed to avenge its triple-overtime loss to the Jayhawks back in January, but instead it was KU who cemented themselves in firm position to win the Big 12 regular season title after Devonte Graham lit up OU for a career-high 27 points while forcing Hield into tough shots on the other end.

Despite those minor bumps in the road, Oklahoma will have a chance to not only right the ship on Saturday at 3 p.m. against West Virginia (20-6), but they also have the chance to make a statement win against the No. 10 Mountaineers while also softening their likely descent in the rankings.

“Yeah it’s an opportunity to make a statement, but regardless of who we’re playing it’ll be an opportunity, and we have to look at it that way,” OU head coach Lon Kruger said. “We’ve not been getting results and playing like we need to. We’ve got five left and each of those will be an opportunity that we’ll treat like a need to make a statement… to ourselves as much as anything.”

OU is obviously more than capable of taking down WVU if they bring anything close to their “A” game, but it won’t be an easy task inside of a ruckus WVU Coliseum, where the Sooners haven’t won since Hield and Cousins were freshmen.

The Mountaineers present a unique style of defense that has warranted the nickname “Press Virginia” due to their relentless, full-court pursuit of the basketball. It will be crucial that OU’s primary ball handlers—Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard—are both giving solid effort and knocking down shots.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball. That’s going to be important for me and Isaiah because we handle the ball a lot and we have to take care of it,” Woodard said after Thursday’s practice.

It’s been a problem for OU as of late to get both Cousins and Woodard going at the same time. Cousins found himself in a shooting slump at the beginning of conference play, but the senior has since fixed his shooting problem, and it’s been Woodard who’s struggled up until Wednesday’s loss to Tech.

Once again, both of the guards failed to consistently knock down shots throughout the same game as Woodard tallied 25 points against the Red Raiders while Cousins had less of an impact with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting.

What made Oklahoma so intimidating throughout their 12-0 start to their season was the stroke of both Woodard and Cousins and their ability to knock down open shots. It will be vital for both guards to get going against the Mountaineers.

“We really need everybody; we can’t just rely on two guys. We need the whole team out there, even the guys on the bench because you never know who will be in foul trouble,” Hield said when asked the importance of Cousins and Woodard to Saturday’s game. “This is a team thing and whoever’s on the court has to compete and they can’t give us no favors.”

Another key to the Sooners’ success on Saturday will be the performance of the big guys down low. Both Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin have struggled as of late, and since OU suffers from a severe lack of depth, Oklahoma will need the post duo to get back in a rhythm.

Spangler is averaging 10.4 points per game on the season to go with 9.7 rebounds, but is averaging just 5.3 points and 8.7 rebounds over the last three contests. Interestingly enough, the Sooners were outscored 201-to-198 in those three games with two of them—Kansas, Texas Tech—finishing as narrow losses.

“He’s obviously not making shots, but none of us are making the shots they were a couple of weeks ago,” Coach Kruger said. “When you’re not making shots, you’ve got to figure out how to overcome that or attack, and right now he’s probably more in attack mode.”

While Spangler has his offensive woes, it was Lattin who put up a goose egg in the scoring column against the Red Raiders. While the sophomore’s been known as an intimidating shot-blocking force through most of the season with an average of 2.2 per outing, Lattin only has one swat over the last four games.

Let’s not forget it was Lattin who played the role of hero in OU’s 70-68 victory over the Mountaineers back in mid-January with a last second tip-in off a Woodard missed layup, so he will be vital to the Sooners’ success in this high-stakes conference rematch.

There are many factors that will decide the fate of Saturday’s OU/WVU matchup, and it sure will be fun to see how all of those play out.