WVU hopes third time's a charm against Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There have been times this season - plenty of them, in fact - when it appeared as if West Virginia's basketball team might be ready to turn a corner.
Early in the season, those times came late in games. There was the dramatic comeback against Texas in the second game of Big 12 play. There was another late rally in a game a week later at Iowa State that ultimately fell just short.
More often than not, however, the encouraging spurts have come early. The Mountaineers have led teams - good teams - like Kansas and Oklahoma State, both on the road. In fact, there were times when West Virginia seemed on the verge of breaking those games open.
It didn't happen, of course. In fact, in those two and others it was the opponent that quickly broke things open and turned the games into routs. In doing so, they illustrated yet another weakness these Mountaineers have shown.
"I think you've seen that we're prepared when the game starts," coach Bob Huggins said. "We've started pretty well in virtually every game here of late. Our problem comes when they do some different things and make some adjustments. As I've kind of alluded to all year, we don't adjust when other people adjust. That part of it has been difficult for us."
The Mountaineers get another chance to see if they can adjust tonight when they play their final road game of their frustrating first season in the Big 12. West Virginia (13-16, 6-10 Big 12) faces Oklahoma (19-9, 10-6) in a 9 p.m. game at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
Indeed, West Virginia's issue of late has been its failure to make adjustments, something all teams have to do. At Kansas, the Mountaineers led 16-9 early and had all the momentum on their side. But when Kansas turned up its defensive pressure, West Virginia was lost. By the end of the day, the Jayhawks had turned that seven-point deficit into a 14-point halftime lead, a 29-point second-half bulge and a 91-65 win.
Despite that, Huggins said he actually has seen a bit of improvement in that regard.
"I think we have pushed through [adversity] better, in all honesty," Huggins said. "It was hard to see that at Kansas. But let's be honest, when they make shots the way they made shots, they're awful hard to guard.''
It's also awfully hard to adjust to a team with four seniors in the starting lineup, all of who have been through multiple NCAA tournament runs and a national championship game appearance last season.
"Those guys have four fifth-year seniors who understand and can make adjustments, and they did make adjustments,'' Huggins said. "I think that's been the hard thing. Even though we do have some upperclassmen, Deniz [Kilicli] is really the only one who's played much. It's hard to make the kind of adjustments that we need to make just because of our lack of knowledge and experience.''
In Oklahoma, the Mountaineers will be facing yet another experienced group that starts three seniors and a junior. The teams have played twice already this season - in Orlando, Fla., in a Thanksgiving tournament and then in January at the Coliseum - and the Mountaineers had chances to win both games. The Sooners won 77-70 in Florida and 67-57 in the Big 12 opener.
A particular thorn in WVU's side in that most recent game between the teams was Romero Osby, a 6-foot-8 senior who averages 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. He had 21 points and nine boards in Morgantown.
"He's a hard matchup, I think, for any so-called four man to guard, because he bounces it so well,'' Huggins said. "He can get it at the rim, and he can make shots obviously. And he's got the physical strength to be able to play in the post and put people on his back. So I think he's a tough matchup."
That game was another example of the Mountaineers doing well until an opponent adjusted. West Virginia led 43-31 in the second half and then was outscored 36-14 the rest of the way. The Sooners clamped down on freshman guard Terry Henderson, who had six 3-pointers.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.