With seeding in peril, WVU picks bad time to be step slow

West Virginia’s Devin Williams fouled out with 10 points and three rebounds, while Khadeem Lattin finished with nine points, 13 boards and six blocks.

 

COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With 46 seconds left and Oklahoma wringing the final drop of resistance from West Virginia on Saturday, Devin Williams made his fifth-foul exit via technical.

“I have to learn how to handle myself a little bit better,” he admitted.

Venting a few ill-advised words in the direction of an official didn’t rid Williams of all his frustration, however. With the 76-62 loss finalized, I sought his opinion on the Sooners’ improving sophomore center Khadeem Lattin, who had just collected 13 rebounds, blocked six shots and made three steals.

Williams was so unimpressed you wondered whether he’d choose Lattin in a pickup game.

“I don’t think he’s that good,” he said. “I don’t think (Ryan) Spangler, him or any of the bigs are good, to be honest. They just did a good job of sticking to the game plan.”

Last month, you’ll recall, Lattin beat West Virginia 70-68 on a last-second tip-in. (The rematch didn’t require a buzzer-beater because Oklahoma owned the final 7 minutes.) As for the not-good Spangler, he has ranked second in Big 12 rebounds for two seasons behind only Rico Gathers.

No doubt Williams’ comments were tainted by fresh-loss bitterness. Maybe he was peeved over the trash talk that saw two Oklahoma players assessed technicals earlier in the second half. Maybe he was sore over West Virginia being (essentially) eliminated from Big 12 title contention. Or maybe his goggles were too foggy to see Lattin quick-snatching a putback that put OU up 66-59 and then, only six seconds later, packing a layup attempt by the gimpy Jaysean Paige.

Maybe upon rewatching the game, Williams’ opinion will change, just like the Sooners changed opinions by ending a 1-19 slide in road games against top-10 teams. This was no fluke. Nor was it Oklahoma winning a pretty contest of H-O-R-S-E by showering 3-pointers.

Grit and bustle decided this one—two factors typically on West Virginia’s side, though not Saturday.

Outrebounded 48-37, West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip took exception to a questioner asserting that OU’s edge might be explained by long, odd caroms on 3-point misfires. (As if the Mountaineers’ flurry of 3-point bricks this season hasn’t afforded them copious opportunities to calibrate angles.)

“The ball just didn’t go their way, they made it go their way,” Phillip said. “They just beat us to the ball.”

Paige, his right ankle wrapped in ice, also lamented how much hungrier Oklahoma seemed in pursuit of loose balls.

“We’re used to getting those.”

And opponents, so used to hearing about West Virginia’s edge in toughness, seem to be fueling up for the fight. Witness Texas center Prince Ibeh rejecting a shot and sneering his way to a technical four days ago in Austin. Shaka Smart was OK with that display, just as Lon Kruger seemed accepting of the extracurricular attitude that made OU fearless.

Said Lattin: “We needed to set a tone early and dictate to them.”

Set the tone they did. Now circumstances dictate that West Virginia must discover its bounce-back fury like Oklahoma did.

“I know the people that I want on my side are going to be pissed off, not feeling sorry for themselves,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I want guys who are going to compete. I want some guys that are pissed off, because I’m pissed off.”

Let’s see how ornery the Mountaineers are Monday night when they host Iowa State, another skilled opponent perceived as playing soft on the road.

Amid the grind of the Big 12 homestretch, it’s a precarious time to be a step slow. Not only does catching Kansas for the top spot seem implausible, but a third straight loss could drop West Virginia all the way to sixth.

“You don’t want to waste a good season,” said Paige. “You want to win out and get the seed we deserve.”





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