Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

Oklahoma State will have Cunningham, Likekele available against West Virginia in the Big 12 quarterfinals

MORGANTOWN — Unlike five days ago, West Virginia will face an Oklahoma State team at full strength in Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament.

What that means is Big 12 Player and Freshman of the Year Cade Cunningham will be back in action, as will teammate Isaac Likekele.

The two guards sat out the Cowboys’ 85-80 victory against the Mountaineers last Thursday at the WVU Coliseum.


They did play against WVU on Jan. 4 and combined for 47 points, but the Mountaineers (18-8, 11-6 Big 12) erased a 19-point deficit in the second half to win, 87-84.

“Obviously, Cade Cunningham is a great player,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s the MVP of our league. He’s the real deal. When you have a player like that, you have someone to go to.”

Cunningham sat out last Thursday after rolling his ankle, and Likekele missed the last four games with a hand injury. His hand was in a cast last Thursday during the WVU game.

Cunningham led the Big 12 in scoring (19.7 ppg) and he also averaged 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

The 6-foot-8 guard is projected to be the top overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft this summer.

And therein lies the challenge for the Mountaineers, a team that has struggled to defend must now face possibly the best NBA prospect in the college game.

“I pretty much respect all of my opponents equally, but fear none of them,” WVU point guard Deuce McBride said. “I’m always going to step up to the challenge. I know he’s going to do great things and he’s a great player and he deserves the accolades he’s getting.

“As a competitor, I’m not going to back down from anyone and I don’t think any of my teammates would say something different.”

There is a sort of game-inside-the-game, if you will, when it comes to competing against a top NBA prospect.

It’s one thing to go up against a good college player, WVU forward Jalen Bridges said, but it’s a different deal facing a guy who is four months away from being the top pick in the draft.

“I would say to a point, for sure, because he’s projected as a top five pick and every kid at this level wants to be in that position,” Bridges said. “Obviously, you want to use this game to see where you compare against him.”

On Jan. 4, Cunningham had 25 points and nine rebounds, while Likekele added 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Without either one of them in the lineup last Thursday, Avery Anderson scored a career-high 31 points and freshman forward Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe scored 18 before fouling out for the Cowboys (18-7, 11-7).

Alexander-Moncrieffe did not play in the first game against the Mountaineers and Anderson had four points in that first meeting.

“The other guys played really well,” Huggins said. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton, “did a great job of getting those guys ready to play, contrary to what we did.”

And so the intrigue is set for the Mountaineers’ first postseason game in two years. It just happens to be against one of the top NBA prospects.

“He’s really poised as a player,” McBride said of Cunningham. “He’s a lot bigger than most guards, so he knows when to take other guards down in the post, but he can obviously step out and make shots. He controls the ball really well and he finds the open man. He just knows how to play the game really well.”

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WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Thursday
WHERE: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
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