Senior guard Buddy Hield receives many of the headlines for No. 3 Oklahoma and rightfully so, as the explosive scorer has been one of the nation’s best players this season. Add in fellow guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, and the Sooners have one of the best backcourt rotations in America. However this is more than just a jump-shooting team, and they’re more than a three-player unit as well.
That was all on display Saturday as the Sooners beat No. 10 West Virginia 76-62 in Morgantown. Hield scored a game-high 29 points, but the Sooners’ ability to rebound and take care of the basketball proved to be just as important against “Press Virginia.”
Oklahoma won the battle on the boards, rebounding 45 percent of their available missed shots. There wasn’t a huge edge in second-chance points (16-15 OU), but having to defend for longer stretches had an impact on West Virginia on the offensive end. West Virginia shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 7-for-21 from three, and after Jaysean Paige tied the game at 52 with 7:49 remaining the Mountaineers made just three of their final ten shot attempts.
Oklahoma found its second wind during that decisive stretch, with Hield getting going and Khadeem Lattin making some key contributions himself.
Lattin isn’t much of a scorer, and he doesn’t have to be given the weapons on that roster. But Oklahoma needs him to be a factor as a rebounder and defender if they’re to play deep into March, and that was the case against a West Virginia frontline led by Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton. Lattin finished the game with nine points, 13 rebounds (six offensive) and six blocked shots, falling one point short of his first double-double since a win over Kansas State in early January.
Ryan Spangler (eight points, six rebounds) was relatively quiet for most of Saturday’s game, but Lattin’s play more than made up for it and helped Oklahoma control the action in the paint.
The other key for the Sooners was their value of the basketball. In the first meeting Oklahoma turned the ball over 18 times in a game they won in the final seconds. Saturday, Oklahoma committed just nine turnovers, taking away an area in which West Virginia has managed to account for subpar shooting on many occasions since going to their pressure defense. Without those open-floor opportunities, West Virginia was forced to look to establish its offense in the half-court for most of the game.
And with Oklahoma being a team that looks to force opponents into making challenged shots as opposed turning them over, the Mountaineers found themselves in trouble during the game’s most important stage.
Oklahoma got its offense going during that period, making six of its final ten shots from the field and outscoring WVU 24-10 over the final 7:49. But getting out of Morgantown with the win would have proven far more difficult had Oklahoma not taken care of business defensively and on the glass.