NORMAN — The calendar has barely flipped to February and there are plenty of important college basketball games remaining on Oklahoma’s schedule.
But the payoff of Saturday’s 69-59 win over No. 13 West Virginia could be important when the NCAA Tournament selection committee determines the 68-team field next month.
“Anytime you beat a ranked team, that’s great from a resume standpoint,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Our most important thing, as these guys have done (the) last couple (or) three weeks, is just keep getting better.”
The Sooners (15-8, 5-5 Big 12) got a much-needed win after close losses at Baylor and Texas Tech in recent weeks. For Kruger, it was taking the next step.
“They figured it out today and made a lot of good plays for each other,” Kruger said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. They battled like crazy.”
Senior Kristian Doolittle only has four more contests inside the Lloyd Noble Center. The forward had a springboard game toward his finish with a 27-point, 12-rebound performance to register his sixth double-double this season.
It was also the first time he’s scored in double figures in six games. It ended the longest stretch of not scoring 10-plus points since the start of his sophomore season.
What changed on Saturday?
“I would say playing with confidence. If I was open, just shoot it regardless if I was going to make it or miss it,” said Doolittle, who was 9-of-15 from the field. “Just to have a next-shot mentality. I feel like that was in my head the past few games. But the confidence that the coaching staff and my teammates instill in me, I was able to come out here with a fresh mind.”
Doolittle and Brady Manek single-handedly kept the Sooners in the game during the opening 11 minutes. The pair had OU’s first 15 points.
“Those guys are great shooters and great scorers,” guard Jamal Bieniemy said. “Whenever we can get them going, it’s good for our team. That led the way throughout the rest of the way and carried us.”
OU took a 31-24 lead into intermission after De’Vion Harmon knocked down a 3-pointer before the buzzer.
Harmon was replaced by Alondes Williams in the starting lineup, but had one of his best games. The freshman point guard ended with eight points, four assists and only one turnover in 31 minutes of playing time.
Oklahoma took command in the second half.
The Sooners used a 10-0 run to build a 45-30 lead with 13:57 left, and added another run capped by a Bieniemy 3-pointer to grab a 58-41 advantage with 8:29 to play.
West Virginia (18-5, 6-4) shot a season-low 31.6% from the field.
Coach Bob Huggins, speaking softly, gave an easy answer to the Mountaineers’ offensive woes.
“We missed 22 shots within 2 feet of the basket. That seems impossible,” Huggins said before pausing in reflection and repeating to almost grasp the statistic. “We missed 22 shots within 2 feet of the basket.”
Manek said it was a physical battle in the paint.
“It’s just pretty tough. When you’re battling guys, pushing guys that are bigger on you, it tires you out. It makes the offensive end even more tiring,” Manek said. “I just think me and Doo did a good job just trying to stay with them the whole time and force them to take bad shots. I think we did that.”
OU has won its past five Saturday home games (including one victory at Chesapeake Arena). Up next is a Wednesday 8 p.m. game against visiting Iowa State.
“Always gotta protect home court,” Doolittle said.