Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

March 7, 2013

OU continues dominant run at home, beats West Virginia

NORMAN — Any college basketball player wants to finish his career on a high note in his final home game.

Romero Osby, Steven Pledger and Oklahoma's senior class took it a step further with a perfect final month at the Lloyd Noble Center.

Osby scored 26 points, Pledger chipped in 23 and the Sooners led wire to wire for their fourth straight home game, beating West Virginia 83-70 on Wednesday night. Oklahoma notched its fifth straight win at home, leading throughout every game since Feb. 9.

"It meant a lot," Pledger said. "Being here all four years, I've been through the ups and downs. It definitely meant a lot to me."

It was the last game at the Lloyd Noble Center for Osby, Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Sam Grooms — all of them seniors. Pledger and Fitzgerald were carryovers from Jeff Capel's time as coach, enduring the first consecutive losing seasons at the school in decades.

Now, a return to the NCAA tournament is becoming more and more likely for the Sooners (20-9, 11-6 Big 12).

"We're excited that we might have an opportunity to get there, but we know that our work isn't done," said Osby, who surpassed 20 points for the third straight game. "We've still got to win. We've still got to play this last game of the season and we've still got to play in the Big 12 tournament and try our best to win that. And we're still competing for a championship in the Big 12 tournament.

"We'll just focus on the NCAA tournament when it comes, if we're fortunate enough to make it."

The Mountaineers (13-17, 6-11) trimmed a 17-point deficit down to three in the opening minutes of the second half and were within four with 5 minutes left before Fitzgerald converted a three-point play off a driving layup before hitting a jumper on back-to-back possessions. Pledger followed with a 3-pointer that circled the rim before falling in to make it 76-64 with 3:16 remaining.

Grooms had eight points and tied his career best with 10 assists for the Sooners.

Eron Harris had four of his five 3-pointers in the second half and led West Virginia with 23 points. Deniz Kilicli scored 20.

The Mountaineers have lost five straight and will need to win next week's Big 12 tournament to earn a sixth straight NCAA tournament trip.

"It's like 'Groundhog Day,'" West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, referring to the 1993 movie in which Bill Murray's character repeats the same day over and over. "It's like every day's the same. Every day, it doesn't matter who it is, we throw it to the other team. Every day, we don't rebound."

For a time, West Virginia threatened to return the favor after the Sooners rallied from 12 points down in the second half to spoil the Mountaineers' Big 12 debut in Morgantown in January.

Harris made a pair of 3-pointers during a 13-4 rally that got West Virginia within 66-62 with 6:58 to play, and Kilicli hit a left-handed hook shot a couple possessions later to once again make it a four-point game. But the Sooners again found a way to stay ahead.

The victory completed a three-game sweep of the season series for Oklahoma. The teams also met in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Florida.

Huggins said his staff identified a series of keys to the game — not letting Oklahoma get a bunch of free throws, coming out ahead on the boards after getting outrebounded in the previous two meetings and preventing the Sooners from driving right — and none of them were executed.

Oklahoma shot twice as many foul shots, going 21 for 27, and had a 33-25 rebounding advantage.

"That's what baffles me," Huggins said.

Kilicli scored the last six points of the first half, sparking a 19-5 run that made it a game again. Aaric Murray's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 44-41, but Amath M'Baye answered from behind the arc at the other end as the Sooners started building their lead back to double figures.

Another 3-pointer by M'Baye made it 62-49 midway through the second half before the Mountaineers mounted another charge that Fitzgerald snuffed out.

"That was big," Pledger said. "I know he has it in him. Everybody knows he has it in him. He just has to go out there and do it every time, and he did it."

The Sooners jumped out to a 10-1 lead and followed that soon after with a string of 12 points in a row, including 3-pointers by Osby and Grooms. Osby's layup in transition bumped Oklahoma's lead to 25-8 with 10:45 left before halftime, and even a 6-minute stretch without a basket didn't put much of a dent in the margin.

Grooms' three-point play restored the lead to 37-20 with 2:24 left in the first half.

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