Key to beating Oklahoma? Getting in Trae Young's head; West Virginia does just that
Young had the worst overall game of his college career, and still managed to score his season average
He was pestered, he was flustered. He was harassed, he was hounded. He was ... not himself.
And because Trae Young on Saturday night did not look like Trae Young from the rest of this season in college basketball, sixth-ranked West Virginia won 89-76 over seventh-ranked Oklahoma to extend its winning streak to 14 games. WVU hasn't lost since the opening night of the season. It is running itself into the top five of the polls and looking like an elite team in college basketball.
The Mountaineers made a big statement Saturday, and not merely because of a double-digit win. Bob Huggins coached his players to get in Young's face and stay intimate all night. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year was rattled almost from the tip. He managed to finish with 29 points -- his season average -- but he also had a season-high eight turnovers and shot 8 for 22 from the field, plus 3 for 12 from 3-point range. Young has the green light from inside 40 feet, but against WVU, a few of his decisions to shoot were frustrated heaves after struggling to get over the time line without being pickpocketed.
Credit to West Virginia, specifically senior Jevon Carter. Trae Young has been the best player in college basketball to this point, but Carter has got a candidacy as the sport's best defender. He got into foul trouble in the second half, but it was Carter's physicality and repeated successful swipes at the ball when Young attempted to penetrate that threw the Sooners star off his axis.
“He’s a relentless bulldog” ... what makes my guy Jevon Carter so special is that he takes every possession as a personal challenge pic.twitter.com/fR1xZ4xKgg— Coach Michael Murphy (@hoopsmurphy) January 7, 2018
Carter was ready and exceedingly impressive. It's going to be hard to rip Big 12 Player of the Year from Young, but if it happens, Carter is going to be the guy to do it.
College basketball has had a handful of fun head-to-head matchups this season, but the must-see mano-a-mano will be on Feb. 5 when the Mountaineers play in Norman. Will the Sooners, and Young, earn payback?
Young finished with five assists, a season low, in Morgantown. The primary takeaway from this game, i.e. the thing every Big 12 opponent is going to zero in on going forward: West Virginia proved that if you can get in Young's head, make him uncomfortable and force him into different speeds, then you're going to have a great shot at beating the Sooners. It's easier said that done. Nobody can press and rough you up like West Virginia. Its style is not easily duplicated.
Young looked like not only a freshman, but a freshman trying to figure things out. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just we haven't seen that from him yet this season, not even in the first couple games back in November.
The reaction to Young's night speaks to how good he is considered already at this point in his career. It also is a commentary on the respect Oklahoma has earned a year after the program missed the postseason.
WVU fans livened up the arena with multiple "TRAE YOUNG SUCKS!" chants. If they're doing that, you're already really damn good.
This was only OU's second loss of the season. Young is always going to get his, but Oklahoma's players now know, for certain, that they carry a responsibility going forward. It can't always be Trae saving the day.
If you want a bright side of the night, Oklahoma fans, know this: Young is probably winning National Player of the Year. Barring a collapse of huge proportions, nobody is catching him so long as Oklahoma remains in the conversation for a 5 seed or better.
For him to be as mediocre as he was on Saturday night but still wind up with 29 points? It's evaluation on a different scale from any other player in the sport.
His night is also indicator that he's a lock to finish with a points average between 27 and 31, which means he'll lead the country in scoring. When you're having an off night and still a foul shot away from 30 points, you're a special player. Young's assist average heading into Saturday was more than a full assist per game (10.6 to 9.5) ahead of Saint Mary's Emmett Naar.
There is no league as good as the Big 12 this season. Big picture: It was good for the conference to have a team step up and shut down Young and the Sooners. It adds some more intrigue to a conference that's going to send either seven or eight teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Now the next chapter. We get to see how Young plays when he's ticked off. Oklahoma's next game will be Tuesday night at home against Texas Tech.
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