New season begins Wednesday for WVU
MORGANTOWN — It’s a new season for the West Virginia University men’s basketball team.
The youthful Mountaineers will take on Oklahoma (19-12) Wednesday night in a Big 12 tournament opening round game at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
The West Virginia-Oklahoma game will follow the first matchup between TCU and Oklahoma State and will get underway at approximately 9 p.m. ET.
An 85-77 loss at Oklahoma State last Saturday kept WVU from generating some momentum coming off its 90-75 upset victory over Iowa State last Wednesday night at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers (12-19) allowed the Cowboys to shoot 50 percent from the floor, including 45.8 percent from 3-point distance.
His team’s defense, specifically its transition defense, was on Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins’ mind Monday morning during his pre-tournament teleconference with Big 12 media.
Nine days ago, West Virginia allowed the Sooners to shoot 59.2 percent and score 92 points in a 12-point loss in Norman.
“Our transition defense was just absolutely awful, and they got a lot of easy baskets because we didn’t get back,” Huggins said. “That’s the first thing we’re going to talk about today is making sure we’re getting back, and they have to score against five guys, not against one or two.”
Huggins said going up against a Lon Kruger-coached team is always a challenge because Kruger’s players are always well-prepared.
“I think Lon is one of the great coaches in the country. He does a great job with isolations, and he does a great job of creating mismatches,” Huggins said. “I think since they’re playing (Kristian) Doolittle a lot more I think he adds a lot to what Lon can do in terms of isolations.”
Doolittle scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds nine days ago against the Mountaineers, one of four Sooner players to reach double figures.
Jamal Bienemy and Aaron Calixte scored 22 each, while forward Brady Manek added 14.
The first meeting in Morgantown on Feb. 2 saw West Virginia snap its three-game losing streak with a 79-71 victory. Freshman guard Brandon Knapper had his best game as a Mountaineer with a season-high 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
He has scored just 31 points in seven games since.
The Sooners shot just 42 percent from the floor in that game and got destroyed 46 to 30 on the glass. OU was much better in the second meeting, narrowing its rebounding deficit to eight in Norman.
West Virginia will practice in Morgantown this afternoon before flying to Kansas City later this evening.
The team will have a private workout in Kansas City on Tuesday morning before heading to the Sprint Center for a 3 p.m. practice.
West Virginia has reached the finals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in each of the last three seasons.
Huggins is 7-7 in 14 Big 12 tournament games dating back to 2013.
• Huggins was asked on Monday morning how he plans on getting his young team prepared for the grind of a Big 12 tournament.
“I don’t know. If you’ve got an idea, I’d be willing to listen,” he joked. “We’re just going to go play. The great thing about youth is their enthusiasm.”
Only two West Virginia players who got into last year’s Big 12 championship game against Kansas will suit up for Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma — forwards Lamont West and Logan Routt.
Sagaba Konate, who scored 18 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots against the Jayhawks, will be sitting on the bench in street clothes. He hasn’t played a game for the Mountaineers since scoring 16 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking seven shots in a 69-59 victory over Pitt on Dec. 8.
• Freshman forward Derek Culver was the only West Virginia player named to the All-Big 12 teams announced Sunday.
Culver and Texas forward Jaxson Hayes were the only two unanimous choices to the All-Freshman Team while the duo also earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors.
Hayes was tabbed Freshman of the Year by the conference coaches.
Culver’s 16-point, 21-rebound performance last Saturday at Oklahoma State gives him eight double-doubles for the season and boosts his season averages to 12.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
He’s the first Mountaineer to average a double-double at the end of the regular season since All-Big East forward Kevin Jones did it in 2012, averaging 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds in 33 games.
The last freshman to average a double-double for a season was Warren Baker, who produced 16.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game in 1973.
Culver’s 215 rebounds heading into Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma are the fourth-most ever by a WVU freshman. Baker has the most with 279 in 26 games 46 years ago.
Culver’s 215 boards have come in just 21 games as he missed the first 10 games of the season.
Culver’s eight double-doubles in Big 12 play rank second to Kansas’ Dedric Lawson’s 11. Culver also ranks eighth in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes at 7.3 per contest.
• Junior guard Jermaine Haley had his fifth straight double-figure scoring performance in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State with 16 points.
In his last five games the Vancouver, British Columbia, resident is averaging 19.6 points and shooting 62.3 percent from the floor. Haley’s scoring average has ballooned from 3.6 points before the Baylor game on Feb. 23 to 6.2 points heading into the Big 12 tournament.
• Freshman point guard Jordan McCabe has also topped double figures in each of his last five games, averaging 17.4 points over that span of games.
The Kaukauna, Wisconsin, resident is shooting 45 percent from 3 in his last five games, converting 18 of 40 from behind the arc.
• West Virginia’s 2018-19 schedule is rated the 10th toughest in the country, according to this week’s NCAA NET rankings.
• The Mountaineers have used 17 different starting lineup combinations this year, encompassing 14 different players.
The present Mountaineer starting five consisting of McCabe and Haley at guard and Culver, West and freshman Emmitt Matthews Jr. have started the last six games.
–John Antonik for wvusports.com