WVU 'not in good shape right now'
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia is on its first three-game losing streak since 2005-06 and is trying to avoid the worst basketball rut since a year before that.
What bothers the Mountaineers most is not what has happened, but what should have happened.
"What's really frustrating about what's going on right now is I know we could beat Syracuse and I know we could beat Pitt and St. John's and we didn't," WVU center Deniz Kilicli said. "I'm sure everybody feels like that. If somebody is not feeling like that, I think they should be out of the team."
WVU was 15-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big East 13 days ago and thinking about beating the Orange and making a run at the league title. The Mountaineers now have the lengthiest losing streak in the five seasons under Coach Bob Huggins and are in eighth place in the standings and clinging to a first-round bye in next month's Big East Conference tournament.
Off since Monday's 72-66 loss to Pitt, WVU plays Sunday at Providence in a noon game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. The Friars (13-10, 2-8) are in last place in the conference under first-year Coach Ed Cooley.
WVU has ended losing streaks before by beating Providence. In 2010, the Mountaineers lost to Villanova and Pitt in triple-overtime and won at Providence to start the march to the Final Four.
A year before that, the Mountaineers lost at Louisville and Syracuse and beat the Friars to get going toward the NCAA Tournament.
In 2008, WVU lost at home to Georgetown when Patrick Ewing Jr. blocked Da'Sean Butler's potential game-winning layup at the buzzer and then had one of the worst offensive games in school history in a home loss to Cincinnati. That losing streak ended at Providence.
Then again, the Friars won at home in 2007 and that loss helped land WVU in the NIT. Fate could be in the balance again on Super Bowl Sunday.
"We have to fix it," Kilicli said. "We're the ones playing. Huggs can run us until we puke, but if we're going to do what we want to do, we've got to fix this and put out minds to it.
"We're not in good shape right now. We've got to win enough games if we want to make the (NCAA) Tournament. If we don't, what's going to happen is nobody is going to get recognition and none of the players are going to get what they want. I'm sure that's a good motivation for them and for us."
Desire is the one thing the Mountaineers have addressed the most in the losing streak. They were flat from the start against St. John's and were down by as many as 16 points in the first half. The effort returned at Syracuse, where WVU was undone by a missed goaltending call in the final seconds of a game the Orange won by two points.
WVU looked like it figured things out when it returned home to play the Panthers. The Mountaineers started 7-for-11 from the floor and led 17-9 early. Pitt led 33-29 at the half as WVU finished the half shooting 3-for-11 with five turnovers.
"We stopped playing hard and stopped playing defense and they kept coming," freshman Gary Browne said. "It's more mental than physical with us. We come out and play hard, but we need to keep that going. We put ourselves in a hole and we need to these games coming up."
Symbolic of what Browne said was Pitt's significant edge in loose balls that could have gone to either team, but went mostly to the Panthers. The Mountaineers are normally a team that does well in that area and sometimes makes a living off of it whether on offense or defense or rebounding on either end.
That didn't happen against Pitt and WVU was noticeably passive against the Panthers.
"We don't converge on the ball," Huggins said. "Yeah, sure, they got some bounces. You always get some bounces. I thought we did, too, but I thought our center had the ball to start the second half and they just snatched it out of his hands and scored a layup.
"I thought that's what happened. Maybe it didn't. Maybe they beat us to the ball. We stand around and watch too much."
That can't happen for the Mountaineers, who don't like the idea they were beaten the way they beat others.
"At the end of the day, how those loose balls went to them and how they got them doesn't matter," forward Kevin Jones said. "They were the tougher team and did what it needed to do to win."
When things are working right for WVU, the defense crowds the ball and discourages passes. Teammates pass the ball and move around on offense. Players go hard after rebounds and loose balls.
The main reason Jones leads the conference in rebounding is because he battles for every ball. The main reason Browne leads the team in steals and rebounds as well as he does is because he has followed Jones' example.
It has to be that way for the Mountaineers to be successful.
"K.J. plays great, but we haven't have a player since Da'Sean (Butler) who creates his own shot," Kilicli said. "K.J. gets a lot of rebounds. That's how he scores a lot of points. He gets a lot of loose balls and he hustles a lot. That's what we have to do to beat teams. When we don't it hurts. You put more people around the ball, the better chance you have to get it."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142.