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WVU basketball: Huggins says issues can be fixed

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Not since the beginning of the 1980 season has West Virginia's men's basketball team lost three of its first four games.

That was the last year Bob Huggins was an assistant coach.

Since leaving Ohio State to be on his own, he has learned to spot trouble and help his teams out of it.

Huggins isn't worried about the fate of these Mountaineers.

"We're not going to lose it," he said. "In 31 years, we've never lost it. You've got to learn from your mistakes. You know, if it was just one guy, you can fix it. It's been a whole bunch of different guys. But we're learning. We did a better job running offense (Monday) than we have all year, but we've got to score points."

WVU, the only Big 12 team with a losing record, is missing many more shots than it makes and struggling to surpass the 70-point mark.

The Mountaineers will need to be better tonight when they host Virginia Military Institute (3-3) at the Coliseum.

The 7 p.m. game will be televised on ROOT Sports.

The Keydets are ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring (85.2 points per game).

"We're going to be all right," Huggins said. "We'll get things straightened out."

The NCAA ranks 346 teams in its statistical categories.

The Mountaineers are No. 203 in points per game, No. 276 in field goal percentage and No. 302 in 3-point shooting percentage in games against Gonzaga (6-0), Marist (2-4), Davidson (3-3) and Oklahoma (4-1).

The strength of schedule ranks No. 57. In WVU's win, it scored 87 points against Marist. In the losses, WVU managed 50, 60 and 70.

Huggins said much of his team's trouble is tied to still learning to play.

"For as much as we think we're maybe a veteran team, we're not," he said. "We're not a veteran team to play the way we want to play."

Huggins wants to push on offense, create numerical advantages and get early shots. If it's not there, he wants the Mountaineers to run his motion offense. VMI wants to play fast and is one of the nation's best at doing it every year, though against lesser competition. The Keydets average 80 possessions and 70 shots per game. WVU is averaging 66 possessions and 60 shots.

"We don't want them to play fast," Huggins said. "We want to play fast. People who play fast don't let other teams play fast - at least the ones that are good at it don't."

Those teams make more shots than they miss, they push and score in transition, rebound missed shots to prevent transition and don't foul to give away free points and extra possessions. WVU hasn't been especially good at any of that and Huggins is trying to simplify things to boost confidence, beginning with shooting.

WVU shoots just 39.8 percent from the floor and 25.8 percent from 3-point range. Huggins said his players make shooting harder because of the shots they take.

"Say you miss two jump shots and get two layups," Huggins said. "In your mind, you say, 'Well, I'm 2-for-4. I'm not having that bad of a day.' You shoot the next jump shot because you're still playing with some confidence. But you miss two more jump shots and all of a sudden you're 0-for-4 and saying, 'Man, is this thing ever going to go in?'

"But in all honesty, how many layups have we missed? If we make some layups, all of a sudden you look at the shooting percentage and it's pretty good."

Two Mountaineers are shooting above 50 percent. Aaric Murray (57 percent) is the team's 6 foot, 10-inch center who does his damage around the rim. Guard Eron Harris (64.6 percent) has succeeded with dunks and layups in transition.

"If they want to have a high field-goal percentage, they've got to shoot it around the goal," Huggins said.

That comes easier when the Mountaineers are able to run and they have had chances this season, but not with great success. Huggins moaned about coming up empty on three two-on-one fast breaks against Oklahoma.

"You take the opportunities that are there and you don't force things," he said. "Our game is to create numbers. We want to create three-on-two and two-on-one. That's what good offense is. It's trying to create numbers in your favor. If we have numbers, we want to attack. If you don't have numbers, run your offense.

"That's what we haven't done. We've done such a poor job running offense. We pass it and make a couple half-hearted cuts and then we run out and ball-screen."

Matters have been complicated by foul trouble. Murray, who is the team's leading rebounder, and Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Noreen - the players Huggins trusts to keep things together on the floor - have fouled out of games. Foul trouble has hit other players freely.

Huggins said the Mountaineers have been affected by calls and bad decisions and he's hoping to teach them how to manage both.

"I say, 'How many fouls do you get?' They say, 'Five.' No, you get four. The fifth one, you're out. You've got four," Huggins said. "We all know you're going to get some because you play hard, so you can't afford to make dumb ones.

"(Officials are) going to miss some. That's just the nature of the game. They're going to miss some. So what we've got to do is get away from the dumb ones, because we've made some really dumb ones."

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


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