MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If it wasn't obvious before West Virginia began Big 12 Conference play, it became painfully so for the Mountaineers on Saturday.
Everything they do this season is going to be a struggle, and if they aren't prepared to play tougher than their opponents, they aren't going to win many games.
Saturday West Virginia was beaten by Oklahoma. Technically it was by a 67-57 score and came in front of a crowd of 12,112 at the Coliseum.
In reality, though, the Mountaineers were beaten in so many other ways.
"They just wanted to win more than we did,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said afterward.
It was hard to argue with him.
West Virginia used a barrage of 3-pointers to build as much as a 12-point lead over the Sooners, but went cold in the second half and couldn't hold on in the school's first Big 12 Conference basketball game. The Sooners used a 15-3 run midway through the second half to erase the deficit and then made big shots down the stretch.
That in itself was a disappointment, allowing a visiting team to control the action when it mattered most. But it was how the Sooners controlled things that bothered Huggins most. Time and again they got second and third shots, eventually taking advantage of scoring opportunities through sheer force of will.
Meanwhile, West Virginia (7-6, 0-1 Big 12) was stymied by the Sooners in almost every attempt to score, especially close to the basket. Save for 11 3-pointers - six of them by freshman Terry Henderson - the Mountaineers almost never scored. They made just seven 2-point baskets in 30 attempts.
"Yeah, but for all the missed shots we still never stopped them,'' Huggins said. "We never stopped them.''
Indeed, the Mountaineers certainly did not stop Oklahoma (10-3, 1-0) down the stretch. After losing that 12-point lead, WVU was ahead 55-54 with five minutes to play. In those final five minutes West Virginia got two free throws. Oklahoma got points on six of seven possessions, most after missing initial shots.
"We were playing good defense. They were taking first shots and missing them,'' said West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten, who finished with 10 points and seven assists. "But then we didn't box out and they not only got second shots, they got baskets and fouls.''
That hasn't been the case in recent years for Huggins' teams, and he's having trouble accepting it. Several times during his postgame press conference he referred to WVU teams in recent years that would miss shots by the bushels, but often seemed to find a way to win by playing defense, rebounding and simply being tougher than opponents.
"We rebounded and we guarded on the other end. We pretty much out-toughed teams,'' he said. "[Against Oklahoma] we got out-toughed.''
It's the second time this season the Sooners have done just that. In a non-conference game in November at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., Oklahoma made similar plays down the stretch to win 77-70.
"In conference games, a lot of times it comes down to 50-50 balls, second-shot opportunities,'' said Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger. "It's about getting that rebound when it's in your hands and valuing each possession.''
The Sooners seemed to do that most of the game. The final statistics don't reflect that - OU held just a 40-39 rebounding edge and WVU had more offensive rebounds, 17-13 - but the Sooners came up big when it mattered most.
The one stretch they didn't was when there were really not many rebounds to be had, thanks to West Virginia's spurt of 3-point shooting. Trailing 17-11, the Mountaineers got hot, especially Henderson. In a span of just over the next six minutes he made 5 of 6 3-point attempts, Jabarie Hinds and Eron Harris each added another and WVU took a 35-29 halftime lead.
When Henderson made another 3 early in the second half, it was near the end of a run that saw West Virginia extend its lead to 43-31. But that was it. The Mountaineers made just four baskets in the final 18 minutes.
After scoring 18 in the first half and 21 in the first 22 minutes, Henderson didn't score again. Hinds finished with 11 points and Aaric Murray had eight, but only two after a pair of 3-pointers in the first four minutes.
The Mountaineers shot just 30 percent for the game, and shot better from 3-point range (11 for 30, 36.7 percent) than on 2-pointers (7 for 30, 23.3).
Romero Osby scored 21 points to lead Oklahoma.
The Mountaineers play their first Big 12 road game Wednesday, facing Texas in Austin in a 9 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN2.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
OKLAHOMA 67, WEST VIRGINIA 57
OKLAHOMA 67 (10-3, 1-0)