KANSAS CITY–With the threat of the COVID-19 virus and a near empty Sprint Center, No.6-seeded West Virginia looks to avoid a third loss this season to No. 3-seeded Oklahoma on Thursday night.
When the Sooners (19-12) and Mountaineers (21-10) met on Feb. 8 in Norman, the loss started WVU’s downward spiral, where they lost the next six of seven games, ending with a home loss to Oklahoma. However, the Mountaineers figured out a way to win their final two, including an upset over Baylor.
“We played with a lot more enthusiasm. We had a lot more bounce in our step,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Sometimes you put your head down, it’s easier to put it down than to get it back up. We finally got it back up. We played a lot harder than we had been playing.”
In the two previous meetings, the Mountaineers failed to make shots, shooting a combined 32.9 percent in the two losses. WVU took 27 more shots than the Sooners and actually missed more shots (52) than Oklahoma attempted (49).
If the Mountaineers want to advance they need to make shots and shut down the trio of Brady Manek, Kristian Doolittle and Austin Reaves. The three combined to score 47 points in the first game and 44 the second.
Doolittle averages a team-best 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest and dishes out six assists per game. Reaves averages 14.7 points and Manek 14.4 points.
“Doolittle is a really good player,” Culver said. “He attacks from all three levels – he can score it inside, mid-range and from the 3. When you have a high-dynamic player like that you really have to be on your Ps and Qs when it comes to defensing things.”
WVU’s guards will have to step up and slow down the Sooners’ dribble penetration.
The Mountaineers will need to find a way to make shots as well. On Saturday, Emmitt Matthews dominated against the Bears and WVU could use more of that from the sophomore.
The Mountaineers have reached the semifinals four times in the last four years while Oklahoma hasn’t won a game since 2016.
Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. or 30 minutes after No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 10 Kansas State game and will be televised on ESPN2.