West Virginia beat Oklahoma on Wednesday in the first round of the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament for several reasons, but perhaps none was more important than the Mountaineers toughness down the stretch. It’s an trait this particular WVU team has lacked at times this season and it shows in its overall record.
On Wednesday, however, the mostly young Mountaineers put on a throw-back performance for Bob Huggins and were rewarded with a trip to the conference quarterfinals, where they will play league co-champion Texas Tech later this evening.
Even with star freshman forward Derek Culver relegated to the bench for long stretches of both halves with foul trouble, West Virginia bullied Oklahoma on the board. WVU grabbed 10 more rebounds than OU, including a 16-5 advantage on the offensive glass. That turned into 17 second-chance points for the Mountaineers compared to the Sooners’ seven second-chance points. WVU dominating Oklahoma on the offensive glass was nothing new if you’ve been paying attention. In their two regular season meetings, WVU owned a combined 33 to 9 advantage in offensive rebounds. After Wednesday, the season total was set at 49 for WVU compared to 14 for OU.
With Culver out, it opened the floor for bench players Logan Routt and Andrew Gordon to play important minutes in a win-or-go-home game for WVU. It wasn’t always pretty, but Routt and Gordon combined for 12 points and nine rebounds to fill in nicely with Culver on the bench.
Now the Mountaineers’ focus quickly shifts to Texas Tech. If the game plays out like their January meeting in Morgantown, WVU should have a decent chance to play with the league’s regular season co-champions. If it goes anything like their February meeting in Lubbock, well, hope it doesn’t go anything like that game if you’re a WVU fan.
Of course, West Virginia played without Sagaba Konate in both of those games. Word is Konate, who has been sidelined buy a knee injury and hasn’t played since he set the program record for blocked shots in a December win against rival Pitt, is expected to be a game-time decision for the Mountaineers this evening in Kansas City.
If Konate plays tonight, and that is very much on the table but far from a certain thing at this point, I’m curious to see how much time he gets. The guy hasn’t been in a competitive game in three months, and even if he’s been killing it in the practice gym a live game is an entire different animal.
Either way, West Virginia wasn’t supposed to be here. The Mountaineers finished last in the league and were supposed to lose to Oklahoma last night. Anything else that goes WVU’s way from here on out is just icing on the cake.