The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 4, 2014

Mountaineers get another shot to knock off a ranked opponent

West Virginia’s basketball team has taken some major steps over the last couple of weeks. The Mountaineers have now won two straight and three of their last four. Included in that stretch are wins over Baylor and Kansas State, both of whom were ranked in the top 25 at some point last month.

But a win over a ranked opponent has still been allusive. WVU (13-9, 5-4 Big 12), has played four ranked opponents — Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State (twice) — and come within seven points in each of those contests. In fact, the margin in the four games has been 18 total points.

As head coach Bob Huggins will be quick to point out, though, they were still losses. If the Mountaineers want to make some noise on a national stage, they need to beat a ranked opponent.

The next chance comes tonight when the Mountaineers host No. 21 Oklahoma for the first of four straight games against ranked Big 12 foes. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., with ESPNU carrying the live broadcast from the WVU Coliseum.

The Mountaineers — who can top last season’s win total with a victory tonight — are coming off an 81-71 win over Kansas State on Saturday — avenging a 22-point loss to the Wildcats back on Jan. 18. Juwan Staten scored 35 points in the victory, and the junior point guard has established himself as one of the top performers in a talent-rich league.

The reigning Big 12 Player of the Week is second in the league in scoring (18 ppg), third in field goal percentage (.527) and leads the conference in both assists per game (5.95) and assists-to-turnover ratio (2.91).

“He had a heck of a week,” said Huggins. “He’s been deserving before, but they don’t generally give those awards to people on losing teams.”

Points shouldn’t be hard to find in tonight’s game. Oklahoma ranks third in the Big 12 in points scored, averaging 83.5 per contest, while WVU is fifth at 78.3. The two are also among the worst, statistically, on defense with WVU allowing 70.8 points per game and the Sooners a league-worst 77.

What Oklahoma (17-5, 6-3 Big 12) does well is score and rebound the basketball. The Sooners rank 10th nationally in scoring, and their 38.6 rebounds per game ranks 35th in the national rankings.

OU has won four of its last five games, the only loss an 81-75 decision at No. 16 Iowa State on Saturday.

Buddy Hield leads OU in scoring. The sophomore guard is averaging 17 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest. Senior forward Cameron Clark is averaging 16.1 points and 5.7 boards, and sophomore forward Ryan Spangler is averaging a double-double with 11.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

“Spangler makes a big difference for them,” said Huggins. “He’s probably the best rebounder in the league and probably one of the best in the country. He rebounds everything.”

WVU is 1-4 all-time against OU and has lost four straight against the Sooners. OU won both meetings last season, 67-57 in Morgantown and 83-70 in Norman, Okla.

Tonight’s contest is also an important one in the Big 12 standings. OU is currently third, just 1.5 games behind Kansas for the lead. WVU is in a three-way tie for fourth a game behind OU and 2.5 behind the Jayhawks.

— E-mail: chuffman

@register-herald.com and

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@CamHuffmanRH.

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