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WVU basketball: Mountaineers still winless against top teams

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Throughout his six seasons as West Virginia's head coach, Bob Huggins has crafted postseason resumes with non-conference schedules and wins against the RPI's top 100.

The Mountaineers are just about through with their non-conference play and arguably have no quality wins. They started play in their inaugural Big 12 season Saturday against Oklahoma with a troubling 67-57 loss at home that dropped the team's record to 0-5 against the RPI's top 100.

WVU lost to Oklahoma (10-3, 1-0 Big 12, No. 19 RPI) 77-70 in November's Old Spice Classic.

"We played them before, we knew exactly what was coming, we were prepared and we had the game won," point guard Juwan Staten said. "We just kind of gave it up. It came down to the last six minutes where we kind of collapsed on defense, let them get second-chance opportunities, let their guards penetrate a little bit and they stole the game from us."  

WVU's best win so far is against Eastern Kentucky, which is No. 136 in the RPI, and that nearly didn't happen.  The Mountaineers had a 16-point lead in the second half, but were behind late and had to rally to win. They were fortunate there where they've failed two other times this season.

WVU led Oklahoma 43-31 early in the second half, but were outscored 36-14 and had six turnovers and just four baskets the rest of the way. It was WVU's second loss this season after leading by double digits in the second half. Duquesne overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to beat the Mountaineers 60-56.

"It's starting to become a trend," Staten said. "I think when we have the lead, we tend to relax in the second half. A team starts to make a run and it's kind of hard to turn the offense back on. That's our problem."

That's one, but a lot of things go into that. The Mountaineers make many mistakes on offense, either in half-court sets or in transition, and struggle to shoot and score. They were 9-for-19 from 3-point range in Saturday's first half, but 2-for-12 from 2-point range.

After halftime, they were 2-for-11 from 3-point range and 5-for-18 from 2-point range for a weak 24.1 percent.

For the season, WVU is shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor. Only 43 of the country's 345 teams are worse. Seventeen teams shoot at least that from 3-point range. The Mountaineers are bad there, too, at 28.7 percent, which is worse than all but 30 teams.

"Sometimes teams might take us out of stuff, but the next part is on us," guard Jabarie Hinds said. "We don't run the plays hard enough. That's what we've got to do. I don't know why we don't. It's something we've got to work on and keep running plays hard to make the defense guard us."

The Mountaineers can make it easy on the opponent, too. They had more turnovers than assists Saturday for the sixth time this season. Staten and Terry Henderson gave away possessions on back-to-back trips in the final 1:45 when trailing by only six points.

"Silly mistakes they capitalized on," Hinds said.

The trouble isn't nearly limited to just offense, though.

"We don't make shots and we let other people make shots," Huggins said. "For all we missed shots, which we did, we never stopped them, either."

The Sooners shot 45.5 percent in outscoring WVU by 16 points in the second half. They made just two 3-pointers, but both were against WVU's zone and both by Steven Pledger, coming in the final 5:25. The first cut WVU's lead to 55-54 and the second put Oklahoma ahead 63-57 with 2:03 to play.

Forward Romero Osby had 14 points and seven rebounds in the second half, when Oklahoma had seven offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points.

"We got out-toughed," Huggins said. "The amazing thing to me is they act like that's sometimes not the case. I don't know how a guy can continue to rebound the ball, rebound the ball, rebound the ball and you think the guy's not tougher than you are. That's what rebounding comes down to. You reach for it. They go and get it."

The good news for the Mountaineers, who are No. 103 in the RPI and rank No. 34 in strength of schedule, is they'll have opportunities to improve against top 100 teams. The bad news is that those chances to improve come in the form of 11 games against the top 50. Each is in the Big 12, including one more shot against the Sooners.

WVU also plays its final non-conference game at Purdue (7-7, No. 149) Jan. 19.

"I think it's our concentration over 40 minutes," Staten said. "We have a problem concentrating for 40 minutes and we play in spurts and go through droughts, go through scoring droughts and we don't get stops.

"You can sense it. For the most part, we get pretty good movement and good shots, but once we get stagnant on offense, we start to get stagnant on the defensive end, too. That's the thing we have to fight against."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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