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WVU basketball: For Hinds, Mountaineers, ‘everything is not fine’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Jabarie Hinds had all the incentive he needed to exhale, to release the pressure that had been mounting in previous games and embrace the relief that came with his performance Tuesday night.

In the four games before the 92-75 win against DePaul, the freshman from Mount Vernon, N.Y., had problems. He had made just six shots and missed 24 and totaled but 15 points.

Worse yet, he could look around the locker room after a game, which was usually a defeat, and see teammates going through similar struggles.

Against the Blue Demons, Hinds shot 6-of-8 from the field for 14 points. The Mountaineers had won for just the third time in 10 games and they seemed to break free from whatever was holding them back. It was their best shooting night in six weeks and their highest point total since the third game of the season.

"Everything is not fine," Hinds said. "We've got to keep pushing. We know that. We beat Pitt and we beat Providence before and we had losing streaks after them."

Best of all for Hinds, he could again look around his locker room and see likeminded Mountaineers.

"I don't think we're back to normal," senior forward Kevin Jones said. "I think it's too late to get back to normal. You just take one game at a time. I see the young guys maturing as the games keep going. I don't think it's a lack of effort. I think it's a lack of effort all the time. They've got to learn to play 40 minutes consistently."

Indeed, WVU (18-12, 8-9 Big East) has followed its past three wins with three-, two- and two-game losing streaks. Another losing streak likely leads to the National Invitational Tournament, where WVU hasn't played since winning it in 2007.

The Mountaineers have at least two games left now with the regular-season finale and then the Big East Tournament. Coach Bob Huggins said Wednesday he thinks WVU has enough wins, but added he would "feel a whole lot better" if the team continued to win and to play like it had something to prove.

"I think we're capable," he said.

It begins at South Florida at noon Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Bulls (19-11, 12-5) are 14-1 at home this season, including 6-1 in conference play with a three-point loss to Connecticut. They're billing the game as the biggest in 20 years and selling all tickets for $10 each.

WVU then plays in its final Big East Tournament, which begins Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

USF and WVU are generally considered to be in the NCAA Tournament field today, though it could certainly change. The Bulls shook things up with Wednesday's win at No. 19 Louisville. Coach Stan Heath said it was the biggest win in school history, which probably isn't an exaggeration for a team that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1992.

USF is No. 35 in the RPI and its strength of schedule is No. 19 and there is history to consider, too. The Big East has had 69 teams win at least 12 regular-season conference games and every one of them has made the NCAA Tournament.

WVU, No. 52 in the RPI and No. 12 in strength of schedule, is also eyeballing the past. No Big East team has finished below .500 in regular-season conference play and made the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team since 1994. The Mountaineers can finish .500 and even get a first-round bye with a win against USF and a Seton Hall loss later in the day at DePaul.

USF has additional incentive and can get a two-round bye with a win and either a Marquette win at home against Georgetown or a Providence win on the road at Notre Dame Saturday.

"It's another must-win game for us," Jones said. "They're playing for something and we're playing for something. I think the hungrier, more determined team will win. It's going to be interesting."

The Bulls are one of the bigger surprises in the country. They were 7-6 in non-conference play with losses to Penn State and Auburn, though they were without two of their key players. USF junior guard Jawanza Poland (9.1 points per game) missed the first 11 games and freshman point guard Anthony Collins, whose older brother, Jarmon Durissea-Collins, started at WVU from 2002-2006, missed the first five games. He averages 7.8 points and 5.4 assists per game.

No one on the team scores in double figures, but seven players average between 6.7 and 9.9 points per game. USF lives on defense and holds opponents to 39.2 percent shooting and 57.4 points per game, which ranks fourth and first in the conference.

The Bulls defend with a blend of size and speed and feature a 6 foot, 4 inch and a 6-6 guard and 6-7, 6-8, 6-8 and 6-10 players in the frontcourt. They've allowed 70 or more points three times this season - 70 at Kansas, 75 at Georgetown and 78 at home to Providence - while WVU is 1-10 when it scores fewer than 70 points.

"They're really long and big - really long," Huggins said. "And they've got a lot of people. They just make everything hard. It's very hard to throw the ball in the post or to get shots in the post because it's so hard to get them out of the way."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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