MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Having already spent 35 minutes banging against Kansas’ 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, West Virginia forward Oscar Tshiebwe said he spent a few more on the Allen Fieldhouse court in discussion with the center.
“I spoke to him on the court and I told him he’s tough to guard,” Tshiebwe said after finishing with 17 points and 17 rebounds in the Mountaineers’ 60-53 loss on Saturday against the third-ranked Jayhawks. “I told him, “You’re big and you’re good. You’re only going to get better.’ ”
A mutual respect was created between the two big men.
Tshiebwe dominated in the first half, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds by the break.
Azubuike was the difference in the second half, as he finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds and Kansas outscored the No. 16 Mountaineers, 36-23.
“Oscar, he’s a grown man. I’ve never played against somebody like that,” Azubuike said. “He’s hard to move in the paint. Really physical, really strong. I told him, first time playing him, I tried to box him out and he wasn’t moving.”
Much of the difference Azubuike made in the second half came on lob passes that led to easy dunks.
Those were the result, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said, of WVU not sticking to its plan.
“We didn’t stick to the game plan,” Huggins said. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys and we’re trying to play a bunch of guys. I think we had some combinations out there (that didn’t work) at both ends.
“You can’t help up. If you help up, they’re just going to throw it to the rim.”
WVU guards weren’t able to cut off penetration lanes in the second half and when Tshiebwe stepped up to try and defend, it left the lob passes to Azubuike wide open.
“When someone penetrated and you tried to help, they threw the alley-oop,” Tshiebwe said. “Playing against someone like that, you can’t help that much. You have to trust your teammates.”
The Mountaineers (11-2, 0-1 Big 12) will face a different challenge at 9 p.m. Monday, when they travel to Oklahoma State (9-4, 0-1), a team that had its own second-half problems in its Big 12 opener.
Trailing by six points at halftime on the road against No. 22 Texas Tech, the Red Raiders outscored the Cowboys, 49-20, to win by 35 points.
“The first half I think we were 5 of 13 from three and we were 4 for 15 from two,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton Jr. said following the game. “Against them, if you don’t make the good ones you get, you’re certainly not getting the contested ones. So we’ve just got to figure out how to play more fluid offensively.”
The Cowboys have size in sophomore forward Yor Anei (6-10, 235), but he isn’t the threat around the rim that WVU faced with Azubuike.
Instead, the Mountaineers will need to focus on the Cowboys’ three-guard lineup of Lindy Waters III, Thomas Dziagwa and Isaac Likekele.
The trio struggled against Texas Tech, combining to shoot just 8 of 24 from the field.
West Virginia left Kansas with respect, but knows it needs more than that to compete in the Big 12.
“We can’t give them the game,” WVU guard Miles McBride said. “We turned the ball over at bad times. We missed free throws, obviously. We pretty much handed them the game. I thought we were the better team, but if you let a good team take advantage of opportunities, it’s going to hurt you.”
No. 16 West Virginia
at Oklahoma State
WHEN: 9 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.
TV: ESPN2 (Comcast 36, 851 HD; DirecTV 209; DISH 143)
RADIO: WZST 100.9 FM