NORMAN — Oklahoma’s offense is going through Brady Manek. That is no surprise to West Virginia’s Bob Huggins.
The veteran basketball coach respects his OU counterpart, Lon Kruger, and applauds Kruger’s decision to ride the “hot hand” during a long basketball season.
“He does a great job of finding the hot hand,” said Huggins, who is one victory from tying legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith’s career win total of 879. “If you look at earlier games, (Austin) Reaves was the guy that they got iso’d. Then (Kristian) Doolittle was the guy and now it’s Manek because Manek has had the hot hand, and that’s what Lon does.”
No. 13 West Virginia visits OU on Saturday. Game time is 1 p.m. at the Lloyd Noble Center.
Manek has enjoyed playing at home more than anyone else recently. In his last two games at the LNC, he’s had 31 points (TCU) and 30 (Oklahoma State), including a combined 14 3-pointers — seven makes in each game.
He’s made 27 3-pointers in Big 12 play, which ranks second. He’s also connected on 45.8% of his attempts in league games, which is also second.
What’s been the biggest difference for the junior forward?
“Continued growth in every way,” Kruger answered. “It’s obvious when he shoots the ball. That’s what you notice. But he’s also guarding well. He’s leading better and maturing in every aspect of the game. He’s rebounding the ball well. He’s playing great.”
Manek recently reached the 1,000-point career milestone. During the past six-game stretch, he’s averaging 20.7 points. He’s the only Big 12 player with multiple 30-point games this season.
“He’s been amazing. He’s shooting the ball extremely well. It’s not just that. He’s been playing very well on the defensive glass and the offensive glass,” Reaves said. “He’s always banging with everybody’s biggest player. I know that’s tough. But he’s got to do it and he’s been doing it as good as he can do it. He’s just got to keep doing it and everyone has to build around him.”
Reaves said Manek’s leadership has included his work off the court.
“The first thing you talk about is his character. He’s never doing anything he’s not supposed to do. It’s good to see someone like that continue to get better and strive to be better every day,” Reaves said. “It’s not something that he goes home and settles with just being all right. He works at it. He studies the game.
“Every day, he listens and just tries to get better.”
Oklahoma (14-8, 4-5 Big 12) needs a big win to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Sooners had close losses at Baylor and Texas Tech. A win over either would have looked attractive to the NCAA selection committee.
It has a chance to pick up a victory over a ranked opponent on Saturday.
“We have to keep working to get good enough to win those close calls,” Kruger said. “Playing ranked teams on a lot of nights on the road and you have to be able to do just a little better in every area. This team is getting better. We have to still improve going into the next one.”
Kruger was asked for a scouting report on the Mountaineers.
“They are great. They pressure like crazy and are physical,” he said. “Their low-post guys are tough down there. The wings rebound the ball well. The big guys certainly do.
“They’ve only lost a few times on the year for a reason. They play great.”