When Oklahoma knocked off West Virginia on Feb. 8 in Norman, Okla., the Sooners sent the previously high-flying Mountaineers into a tailspin.
West Virginia lost six of its next seven games to go from just outside the top 10 to out of the rankings in the span of three weeks.
The rough stretch ended with a second loss to Oklahoma, this time in West Virginia.
But entering Thursday’s Big 12 tournament quarterfinal between the teams, the now No. 22-ranked Mountaineers have finally righted the ship and are playing similarly to how they were during an 18-4 start.
West Virginia, the tournament’s sixth seed, has momentum after wins at Iowa State and home against then-No. 4 Baylor to end the regular season.
“We played with a lot more enthusiasm. We had a lot more bounce in our step,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said of his team’s recent resurgence. “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.”
That win over Baylor was the lone West Virginia win this season over the top three teams in this week’s tournament.
“We can play with anybody,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to execute. We got to play with some toughness. We’re physical enough inside when we want to be. We rebound well enough when we want to. And we’re starting to make shots again.”
The Mountaineers (21-10) haven’t made very many shots against the Sooners this season, shooting a combined 32.9 percent in the two losses to Oklahoma. That includes a season-worst 31.6 percent in the road loss.
The third-seeded Sooners (19-12) also have some momentum, with three wins in their last four games. The loss came on a late 3-pointer by Texas on March 3.
But the Sooners are trying not to take their position for granted, even going against a team they’ve had plenty of success against this season.
“It’s always hard to beat a team three times, especially a really good team,” Sooners guard Austin Reaves said. “They were top 25 all year. It’s going to be hard, but if we do what we do — stick to our game plan, listen to the coaches, we’ll be good.”
West Virginia has made it to at least the semifinals in the tournament each of the last four seasons.
Oklahoma hasn’t won a conference tournament game since 2016, the season the Sooners made the Final Four after getting bounced by the Mountaineers in a tight Big 12 semifinal game.
But this year’s Oklahoma team doesn’t have any players who have won a game in the event.
“I don’t know if there’s any one reason as to why,” Sooners forward Kristian Doolittle said of Oklahoma’s recent struggles in the Big 12 tournament. “This is the furthest I’ve ever been. Having the first-day bye gives us more time to rest.”
–Field Level Media