Tahlequah Daily Press

February 5, 2014

Sooners head east to take on West Virginia

By JOHN SHINN
CNHI

— NORMAN — Technically, Oklahoma crossed the midway point in the Big 12 Conference with last Saturday’s loss at No. 16 Iowa State.

At 17-5 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12, the 21st-ranked Sooners have positioned themselves well for the NCAA tournament.

“Everyone like to be a little bit further along win-loss wise,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Through nine games, we’ve had a good starting point. We’ve learned a lot and made progress on both ends of the court. But there are still nine one-game battles ahead. They’re all going to be tough.”

But the real outward half of the league slate ends after they face resurgent West Virginia (13-9, 5-4 Big 12) at 6 p.m. today at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va.

The game is critical for the Sooners because one thing they’ve managed to avoid all season is a losing streak. That will be put to the test against the Mountaineers, who won three of their last four and are coming off an 81-71 victory at home against Kansas State on Saturday.

They boast one of the league’s best scoring backcourts with guards Juwan Staten (18.0 ppg) and Eron Harris (17.0 ppg). Limiting the pair is essential for success. The pair combined for 44 points in the victory over the Wildcats, with Staten scoring 35.

This one will set the tone for the second half of the conference schedule. At least, that’s how the Sooners see it. They’ve accomplished a lot thus far, but the goal is never to peak in early February.

“We still have a lot of room to grow,” OU forward Cameron Clark said. “Defensively, I still think we can improve more. Offensively, we just need to move the ball more and not let it get caught in our hands. We just need to be aggressive.”

The Sooners have become noticeably better on the defensive end since conference play. They’ve held their last six opponents to 44 percent shooting or worse. Defense and rebounding is what kept them in the Iowa State game and helped erect the four-game winning streak OU had going into the weekend.

But momentum can be fleeting. Once it’s lost, it hard to regain. That makes tonight’s game a very important one on the schedule.

“Momentum comes from winning. Coming off the loss to Iowa State, we have to get that back,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “I feel like we’ve played well enough to win the games we’ve lost. But we have to play better.”