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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Friday / February 23.
  • No. 19 West Virginia Completes Season Sweep of Trae Young, No. 17 Oklahoma

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    By MIKE McCURRY

    West Virginia’s season to date has been primarily defined not just by Sagaba Konate’s shot-blocking prowess and Bob Huggins’ patented relentless defense, but also by blowing double-digit leads in gut-wrenching losses against quality opponents.

    On January 13, the Mountaineers were up 11 on Texas Tech with 13 minutes left. Two days later, they led by as many as 16 versus Kansas. Their lead over Kentucky on January 17 swelled to as large as 17.

    West Virginia somehow proceeded to lose all three of those aforementioned games.

    On Monday in Norman, No. 19 WVU at long last exercised those demons, building up an 11-point lead on Trae Young and No. 17 Oklahoma before hanging on for dear life, 75-73, thus completing the season sweep of the Sooners.

    Konate finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Esa Ahmad, ineligible for the first Oklahoma meeting—an 89-76 West Virginia win back on January 6 in Morgantown—chipped in 14 of his own, including back-to-back crucial buckets late via a midrange jumper and thunderous slam on a faceup drive.

    Lamont West scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half on the strength of five three-pointers.

    As for Young, who was reportedly battling an illness throughout the game, he had 32 points on only 20 shots but just a single assist and six turnovers.

    You tell me what’s most bizarre out of these three options: That Young’s previous career-low in assists was five, that his lone dime came with 1:32 left in the contest, or that Oklahoma did not commit a single defensive foul for the first 24 minutes of game time.

    Yes, all of the above occurred in a game as quirky as it was thrilling.

    West Virginia’s game plan, which held Oklahoma to 1.01 points per possession and 17 points below their season average, was to check Young primarily with one defender and avoid over-helping.

    Sooners not named Trae Young combined for 41 points on 15-of-36 shooting (42 percent). That doesn’t equate to a complete no-show by Young’s supporting cast, but note that only one of his teammates exceeded 8 points (Brady Manek with 12).

    It’s important to comprehend why West Virginia was and is able to execute this game plan, and that’s because the Mountaineers possess an assemblage of capable on-the-ball defenders, namely Carter (the reigning National Defensive Player of the Year) but also Daxter Miles and James Bolden, that can effectively deny and faceguard Young before keeping him in front once he gets the rock.

    This allows the other four WVU players on the floor to pay more attention to their men and less attention to Young compared to help defenders on just about every other team Oklahoma has faced this season.

    In layman’s terms, don’t call Huggins the Trae Young whisperer just yet. The National Player of the Year frontrunner was still able to get his. But Huggins, who we associate with getting the most out of the least, employs his personnel to perfection on the defensive end and has now kept a high-octane Oklahoma offense at bay twice.

    The loss puts a huge damper on any hopes the Sooners had of winning the Big 12. They’re now 6-5 in league play, trailing West Virginia (7-4) and Texas Tech and Kansas (7-3), both of whom Oklahoma has remaining road games against.

    As for West Virginia, it’s a second consecutive promising showing following a stretch in which the Mountaineers lost five out of six games.

    Photo: @WVUhoops

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