Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger has had several stops during his well-established coaching career, but on Saturday, he’ll be making his first trip to Morgantown when the Sooners take on West Virginia at the Coliseum.
“I’ve actually not played a ballgame there in all of the years,” Kruger said. “A lot of good basketball has been played there, but I haven’t been there in person.”
In fact, Oklahoma’s program has never played in Morgantown either. The Sooners and Mountaineers have only met three times previously — a 2005 West Virginia win in Oklahoma City at the Ford Center, a 2007 Oklahoma win at the Charleston Civic Center, and once this season at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
The Sooners (9-3) have won two straight. However, a surprise loss to Stephen F. Austin in mid-December was part of a bumpy stretch for Kruger’s club.
“Probably that earlier game against West Virginia was one of our better efforts. But we didn’t consistently back that up with other good performances.” — Lon Kruger
“It’s been a little bit up and down on the year,” Kruger said. “Like a lot of teams, we haven’t shot the ball consistently as well as we have needed to. The effort has been good and the enthusiasm has been good. We need to rebound the ball a lot better and I know we’ll have to play a lot better to have a chance to win in Morgantown on Saturday.”
Oklahoma got the better of West Virginia in the November matchup, making 47 percent of their shots in a 77-70 win.
“It was a good ballgame,” Kruger said. “The game could have gone either way very easily and was tied with five or six minutes to go when we knocked down a couple of shots. The game had a few runs in it, but neither team got away from the other. It was a good challenge for sure.”
The loss dropped the Mountaineers to 1-3 on the year — a hole they’ve been trying to climb out of ever since. While West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has made some tweaks to his offense since then, Kruger doesn’t necessarily see a whole lot of changes overall.
“I don’t know if there’s a big difference,” Kruger said. “(They’ve made) progress for sure five or six weeks later because Bob’s teams always play very hard and compete on both ends of the floor. We know how tough that’s going to be. They’re making progress and I’m sure they feel better about their club right now than they did five or six weeks ago.”
In that first matchup against the Sooners, it was Oklahoma’s Amath M’Baye giving West Virginia fits inside as he finished with 19 points.
“That was probably his best game so far,” Kruger said. “He’s also had a couple of good games here lately where he’s been aggressive and shot the ball with confidence. He had a stretch though in the middle (of the year) where he didn’t do that as well. It’s good to see him back, he’s a good player.”
“The game could have gone either way very easily and was tied with five or six minutes to go when we knocked down a couple of shots. The game had a few runs in it, but neither team got away from the other. It was a good challenge for sure.” – Lon Kruger on the first matchup against the Mountaineers.
Kruger, meanwhile, has certainly seen his fair share of good players throughout his career. Before coming to Oklahoma before last season, Kruger had head coaching stops on the college level at Texas Pan-American, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV. He also had a stint in the NBA with the Hawks and another assistant coaching job with the Knicks.
“(The NBA) was a good experience, other than the losing,” Kruger said. “Didn’t like the losing, and getting fired was kind of humbling, but it was a healthy experience for sure. We had good guys, but just didn’t win enough ball games. But I did really enjoy it.”
Now in his second season with the Sooners following his tenure at UNLV, Kruger has fully settled back into the college game.
“We’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of good places,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people. It’s been no different here at Oklahoma, the administration has been terrific and the fan base wants to have a good basketball team. We’ve got a ways to go to get where we need to be, but it’s a good group of guys.”
And as for where his group of guys stand at this point in the season heading into Big 12 play?
“Record-wise we’re 9-3 and I’m not disappointed with that,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve played as well and as consistently as we would have like to. Probably that earlier game against West Virginia was one of our better efforts. But we didn’t consistently back that up with other good performances.”