MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As No. 21 Oklahoma’s coach Lon Kruger studied game film of West Virginia in anticipation of Wednesday night’s matchup, he noticed Juwan Staten developing into a seemingly unstoppable force.
Bruce Weber certainly can attest.
Staten’s career-high 35-point outburst—bolstered by a school-record 21 free-throw attempts—lifted WVU to an 81-71 win over Kansas State and left Weber suggesting the new freedom-of-movemement rules might have overreached.
“If you get a really good player and they’re calling the new rules true to the emphasis, it’s impossible to stop him,” Weber said. “He just puts his head down and goes to the basket, and you know, what do you do? It’s really hard.”
Weber wasn’t bellyaching about the fouls that sent Staten to the line, adding that his defenders have “to adjust and play basketball.” But Staten is clearly one of the players who has best exploited the crackdown on hand-checking and physical defense.
“Staten is so tough, whether it’s in transition or (in the halfcourt) keeping the pressure on,” said Kruger, whose team has some firepower of its own. The Sooners are the 12th-highest scoring team in the nation at 83.5 points per game. While WVU ranks 41st at 78.3 per game, the Mountaineers hold the edge in efficiency, ranking 32nd nationally in points per possession, 10 spots higher than Oklahoma.
“They’ve got good pieces,” Kruger said.
Still a relative newbie to the Big 12, West Virginia can match its longest league win streak by beating the Sooners. The Mountaineers won three straight last season, albeit against Texas Tech, Texas and TCU, which finished a combined 12-32 in conference.
Coach Bob Huggins said his team has maintained focus after beating Baylor and K-State.
“I think they’ve been fine,” he said. “We had a pretty good practice (Monday). It wasn’t great, but this time of year you won’t have the same kind of practices you have early on. We got done what we needed to get done.”
Tipoff: Wednesday, 7 p.m. in Morgantown (ESPNU)
Records: The No. 21 Sooners (17-5, 6-3) are 3-2 in road games this season, including an 81-75 loss at Iowa State on Saturday. Four of Oklahoma’s losses have come against teams with RPIs of 42 or better. The lone outlier was a 102-98 home loss to No. 79 Louisiana Tech. … The Mountaineers (13-9, 5-4), had dropped 25 of their last 26 games against the RPI top 100 before posting back-to-back wins last week.
RPIs: Oklahoma State is No. 17 and WVU is No. 80.
Coach: In 28 seasons as a college head coach, Lon Kruger (531-337) has steered five programs to 14 NCAA tournament. berths (K-State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and now Oklahoma). He’s 52-32 in his third season with the Sooners. His only non-productive stop was a three-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks that resulted in a 69-122 record.
Oklahoma’s top players: With five players scoring in double figures, the Sooners have myriad options on the offensive end. Guard Buddy Hield (17.0 points) and 6-7 swingman Cameron Clark (16.1 points) can make shots from anywhere, but watch out for Gonzaga transfer Ryan Spangler (11.1 points, 10.2 rebounds). The 6-foot-8 sophomore from Tuttle, Okla., seems to be enjoying the return to his home-state program. “Spangler makes a big difference,” Huggins said. “He’s the best rebounder in our league—maybe one of the best in the country. He rebounds everything.” … Freshman Jordan Woodard (11.3 points) and sophomore Isaiah Cousins (10.4) play huge roles also.
WVU roster notes: Juwan Staten became the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 player of the week in basketball, and with good reason. He averaged 25 points and seven assists in the wins over Baylor and K-State, and now ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring (18.0), while leading in assists (5.95), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.91) and minutes per game (37). … The outside shooting of Eron Harris (17.0 points) and Terry Henderson (12.2 points) is crucial to Staten having room to drive the lane. In the last two games, Remi Dibo (7.5 points) has posted back-to-back double-digit scoring outputs for the first time as a Mountaineer. … WVU is ninth in the league and 244th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.
Line: West Virginia favored by 1.5.
Prediction: West Virginia 83-82