WVU always seems to play well after a loss
MORGANTOWN - The time after a loss is never easy in West Virginia basketball, one reason the Mountaineers are 35-8 after they lose a game in four-plus seasons now under Bob Huggins.
They followed last Monday's come-from-ahead loss at Connecticut with an easy 84-60 win Saturday at home against Rutgers.
"This week was hell, man," junior forward Deniz Kilicli said. "I mean, I hated it. I think everyone hated it. He was really hard on us. "
That was news to Huggins, who was asked about what his players thought was an especially hard week and who assumed he was being asked about the future. WVU (13-5) plays Marshall (13-4) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the soldout Charleston Civic Center and that had Huggins' attention.
"I think playing the Marshall game in the middle of the conference season is a disaster," Huggins said. "It doesn't help either team. They won last year and went out and just got drilled the next game out. It ought to be in the preseason. It should not be where it is."
Whether Huggins recognizes it or not, the Mountaineers enter the Capital Classic with some confidence after navigating the long and trying time between the loss to the Huskies and the win against the Scarlet Knights.
WVU flew back to campus Monday night from Hartford, Conn., and was off Tuesday. The team practiced 2 hours, 45 minutes Wednesday, though Huggins initially wanted to go for about 90 minutes before realizing his players weren't worthy of leaving so soon.
"They decided they didn't want to do that," Huggins said. "That was on them, not me."
Practice was better Thursday, but Huggins said Friday was "just awful and I absolutely wore them out."
The Mountaineers then did the same to Rutgers and beat the Scarlet Knights for the second time in 10 days. WVU was ahead 48-22 at the half - the largest halftime lead of the season - and answered a Rutgers run that cut the lead to 16 points by scoring 17 of the game's next 21 points to go up by 30.
It wasn't without incident, though. The Scarlet Knights scored six quick points to start the second half and Huggins called a timeout.
"We were up 25 (at halftime Jan. 4) at Rutgers and they came out and went on a 10-0 run," Huggins said. "I wasn't going to do that again. What frustrates me more than anything is you really try to teach them how to play the right way. When you're dribbling it and you don't have your head up and don't see open teammates, that's not playing the game the right way."
WVU avoided repeating more history by staying away from many of the critical errors that wiped away a 10-point lead in the second half against UConn. The Mountaineers stuck with their offense in half-court situations, passed the ball, moved the defense and had good possessions with good shots when they needed.
"The defense was spinning and didn't know what we were going to run on offense," Kilicli said. "We moved the ball and moved the defense and we caught them looking at the ball."
Kilicli had 14 points on just five shots and four baskets. Senior Kevin Jones scored 24 points and has at least 20 points in three straight games for the first time in his career. He added 14 rebounds and leads the Big East in scoring (20.1), rebounding (11.6) and double-doubles (12).
Senior Truck Bryant had 15 of his 18 points in the first half, when WVU was 17-for-30 (56.7 percent) from the floor, with assists on all but three baskets, and 6-for-10 from 3-point range. Freshman Jabarie Hinds had 11 points, only the second time he's scored in double figures in six Big East play. Both times the opponent was Rutgers. Freshman Keaton Miles was 3-for-4 for six points and added four rebounds and seven assists. He had career-high totals in baskets, points and assists.
"We played a whole different game as a team and we passed it and had good motion and movement," Bryant said. "When that happens and we have more than just me, K.J. and Deniz scoring, we're a pretty good team."
The Mountaineers have won eight in a row against Rutgers and 18 of 25 since they joined the Big East in 1995. That, as much as anything else, explained WVU's improvements Saturday.
"We didn't play UConn, that's one thing," Kilicli said. "We played Rutgers, not UConn. It's easy. It's pretty simple. They don't have two or three players that can play. They have one freshman who kind of plays one day and doesn't want to play on the other."
WVU scored 30 points in the paint against Rutgers and 20 against UConn. The Huskies blocked nine WVU shots. Rutgers blocked two. The Mountaineers turned UConn over 12 times for 19 points. They turned the Scarlet Knights over 19 times for 23 points. WVU had 10 assists on 21 baskets and shot 32.3 percent against UConn. The same players had 22 assists on 27 baskets and shot 46.6 percent against Rutgers.
"Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi weren't standing under the basket," Huggins said of the UConn players Rutgers just doesn't have.
WVU expects Marshall, which won last year's game after losing four straight to WVU, to offer more than Rutgers.
The Thundering Herd is No. 2 nationally in rebounding margin (plus-11.6) and the defense has allowed just three opponents to score more than 70 points this season. WVU is 13-1 when it scores 70 or more this season, including both wins against Rutgers.
"Marshall is better than these guys," Kilicli said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.