KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As West Virginia enters Big 12 Tournament play, Bob Huggins thinks his players have the right mindset.
After losing six of seven during a slump in February, West Virginia ended the regular season with back-to-back wins at Iowa State and against then-No. 4 Baylor. The head coach of the Mountaineers thinks those results have added “a little bit more bounce” to his team’s practices.
His players also realize they have an opportunity to do something unprecedented. WVU has reached the semifinals in each of the last four Big 12 Tournaments and has appeared in the championship game three times in the last four years, but the Mountaineers have never claimed a trophy.
“They want to win something,” Huggins said. “They wanna be able to hang a banner, and winning the tournament here would hang a banner. We’ve been in the finals three times, haven’t won. We’ve almost gotten there. These guys want to be the ones that got there.”
Six-seed West Virginia will take on three-seed Oklahoma Thursday at 9 p.m. ET in the quarterfinal round. The Mountaineers practiced Wednesday morning at the Sprint Center and addressed the media just a few hours before the the Big 12 announced that it will restrict ticket sales and fan access to its men’s and women’s tournaments.
The Sooners gave the Mountaineers plenty of headaches during the regular season, sweeping WVU with a pair of double-digit victories. They’ll again present a tough matchup for the Mountaineers to defend.
Oklahoma forward Kristian Doolittle has had the most success against the Mountaineers, averaging 23 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game across the two contests — well above his season averages of 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Fellow forward Brady Manek, who is both a threat inside and on the perimeter, reached double figures in both regular season meetings, while guard Austin Reaves just scored a career-high 41 points against TCU in Oklahoma’s regular season finale.
Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe said the Mountaineers need to be better in every phase of the game against the Sooners.
“If you look back when we played against them, we were struggling on defense, and on offense, we were not running the right way [what] the coaches wanted to run,” Tshiebwe said.
But senior guard Jermaine Haley said the Mountaineers rediscovered something about themselves during those consecutive victories to close out the regular season — they do have the tools to win this third meeting with the Sooners if they play with energy.
They think they could beat anybody, for that matter.
“When we play hard, we can beat anybody in the country, honestly,” Haley said. “That’s something that’s within us. Coach gives us the recipe every week to be successful. We’ve just got to go out and execute it, and when we do and play hard, I think we’re unstoppable.”