It’s a case of repeat deja vu as West Virginia faces Oklahoma for the third time during the regular season.
Year 2 of Lon Kruger’s rebuilding project has Oklahoma (19-9, 10-6) in fourth place in the Big 12 and, more crucially, in solid standing for an NCAA at-large bid. Year 6 of Bob Huggins’ home-state reunion is bringing unprecedented woes as the Mountaineers (13-16, 6-10) are fighting just to hang on to the seventh seed for the upcoming league tournament.
Let’s look at five keys for Wednesday night’s 9 p.m. game in Norman, with ESPN2 providing the pictures and MSN providing radio coverage on MetroNews affiliates at 8 p.m.:
1. The last time they met …
During the Big 12 opener in Morgantown, WVU made nine 3-pointers in the first half and led 43-31 with 17:29 left in the game. But Oklahoma held the Mountaineers to only five field goals the rest of the way and won 67-57.
“First Big 12 game, home opener, packed crowd — what more could you ask for?” said West Virginia guard Terry Henderson, who scored 21 points but was shut out during the final 17 minutes. “I really thought we were going to pull it out.”
Romero Osby fueled Oklahoma with 21 points and nine rebounds.
2. And the time before …
Amath M’Baye scored 19 points and the Sooners won 77-70 in the third-place game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, giving Huggins his first hint WVU might not be inclined to follow scouting reports.
“You’d have to be deaf not to know they (OU’s big men) are going to go right, and how many times did we get beat right?” he said. “Bottom line is we’re not tough enough, we’re not mentally tough enough.”
3. Osby lifts his game
The 6-foot-8 senior forward, who spent his first two seasons as a limited-impact role player at Mississippi State, tops the Sooners in scoring this season (15.2 points), rebounds (7.1) and field-goal percentage (.522). He has been even more productive during Big 12 games, scoring at a clip of 17.2 per game. In 23 of 28 games this season, he has been on the positive side of the plus-minus column.
Osby’s also an 80-percent foul shooter who made all 10 attempts Saturday against Iowa State, part of a day in which OU tied an NCAA mark by going 34-of-34 on free throws.
4. Senior Night for Sooners
Along with Osby, Oklahoma bids farewell to three other seniors — guards Sam Grooms (4.8 points, 2.9 assists) and Steven Pledger (11.9 points), and forward Andrew Fitzgerald (5.8 points, 3.2 rebounds).
Oklahoma is 11-2 at home this season, with losses to Stephen F. Austin and Kansas State by a combined three points.
5. Very unHuggins-like
With four consecutive losses, West Virginia is on the precipice of some dubious history tonight. No Huggins-coached team has ever lost five straight games.
After Saturday’s 91-65 loss at Kansas, Huggins discussed his team’s inability to erase deficits, saying “we’re not good enough to get down 10, 12, 14 points to a team as good as what they are and be able to come back.” But it’s not just powerhouse teams like Kansas that have run away from WVU. In recent defeats, the Mountaineers trailed by 24 points at Baylor (lost 80-60), by 21 at Kansas State (lost 71-61) and by 18 to Oklahoma State (lost 73-57).
The difficult stretch has players such as freshman Eron Harris turning philosophical in order to cope.
“I talk to my dad a lot and he keeps saying we’re going to go through trials as people, and this is a big trial,” Harris said. “And guys who are going to come out on top are the ones that can get through the adversity. I’m not going to give up on my team.”