The Big 12 grind wears on for Oklahoma, as the Sooners visit the furthest outpost in the conference in need of a feel-good win.
Losers of four straight contests, OU travels to West Virginia to take on Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers on Wednesday night.
Both teams enter after a less than ideal start to conference play, as the Sooners have fallen to 12-7 overall and 2-5 in Big 12 play, and West Virginia checks in at 13-5 and 2-4.
Even worse for OU, the road trip to Morgantown comes sandwiched after last week's games against the class of the Big 12 in No. 7 Kansas and No. 5 Baylor, and just ahead of a weekend trip to No. 1-ranked Auburn.
Regardless of the level of Oklahoma’s opponents, the Sooners must take care of the ball if they want to turn their season around.
In their last outing against the Bears, OU turned the ball over a season-high 25 times. As a team, the Sooners have fallen to No. 320 in the country in turnovers per game.
And though Oklahoma’s struggles looking after the ball have persisted, head coach Porter Moser said he’s rarely though of anything else going on.
“I'm so entrenched in trying to get us to take care of the ball,” Moser said Tuesday during his weekly Zoom press conference. “Twenty-four/seven, I'm trying to teach, teach, teach, to not get sped up, not drive into three (defenders), to kick it.”
Currently, Moser is looking to any possible outlet for inspiration on how to get his team to rein in their turnover issues.
Just this week, Moser said, Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra posted a video on his Twitter account where he stressed to his team the need to always find the open man each offensive possession, and the message resonated with Moser.
“It's the most simplistic statement which is the truest form of anything. And he's saying it to the pros,” Moser said. “ … We explained it to our guys. You can't miss the opportunity.
“We're putting our head down and driving into Baylor's defense of three guys and missing the opportunity when he was open and then picking it up and jumping. We just have to learn to kick when these defenses are this good. We have to pass when he's open.”
Unfortunately for the Sooners, when the play breaks down, there hasn’t been one player who can consistently step up and bail OU out.
Elijah Harkless has had moments where he’s been clutch this season, namely in Oklahoma’s win at UCF and in the home loss to Butler where Harkless came alive down the stretch to send the game to overtime.
Tanner Groves is still the leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, and while he had standout performances in the non-conference slate, he’s struggled to find consistency in Big 12 play.
Umoja Gibson has shown the ability to be a microwave scorer, and even dating back to last season he’s had great success against the Mountaineers specifically. In the two contests last year, Gibson averaged 24.0 points per game, combining to shoot 13-of-21 from beyond the arc.
If any one of those guys are feeling it on any given night, it goes a long way to alleviating OU’s turnover issues.
“We collectively need to get better,” said Moser, “but when you play elite defenses, you need some guys that you can run a simple play for and they can go make a shot, get a shot.
“ … You do, need some guys to step up in crucial times and make some plays. I don’t think we’ve had that. In the TCU game, the Kansas game – we sort of struggled down the stretch when certain guys stepped up and made those shots.”
The entire offense was guilty of struggles early on against Baylor, turning the ball over eight times over the first 10 possessions. But even after the Sooners steadied the offense, the team struggled to get everyone involved.
For the second time this year, Groves was held without a shot attempt in the first half, something that simply can’t happen if OU’s offense is to work at peak efficiency.
“Tanner knows that we want him to be a big part of the offense,” Moser said. “We talked about it at halftime (against Baylor). … In this last game, I thought his shot looked great.
“ … It was great to see (shots) go on through. Sometimes that’s what guys need is they need to see it go through. I think that second half, Tanner’s got to build on it. He’s had no hesitation these last two days in practice.”
The Sooners need all hands on deck to overcome West Virginia’s full-court press, as the Mountaineers enter the contest rank No. 25 nationally in turnover margin. Oklahoma’s defense also has to deal with playmaker Taz Sherman, who leads the Mountaineers with 18.9 points per game.
More than anything, OU needs a win for morale, as Oklahoma’s losing streak could easily slip to six games or more if Moser’s team can’t steal a win in Morgantown.
“A West Virginia road win, that's on the board,” Moser said. “That's on the board of Selection Sunday as a huge win, and that's what we have to do to get right back in the right direction."
The matchup between the Sooners and the Mountaineers tips off at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Want to join the discussion? Click here to become a member of the AllSooners message board community today!
Follow AllSooners on Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest OU news.