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WVU basketball: Huggins ready to give up on his post players

AMES, Iowa - When the comeback ended Wednesday night and the game was over, Bob Huggins arrived at a conclusion, too.

"I'm done," he said.

Maybe that was the moment speaking and not the 20th winningest coach of all time. Label it temporary insanity. After all, hadn't Huggins been doing the same thing again and again this season all while hoping for a different result from his sixth West Virginia team?

Something was screwy when the 69-67 loss to Iowa State was history. It sounded like forwards Deniz Kilicli, Aaric Murray and Dominique Rutledge, each a starter at points this season, were in the past while guard Matt Humphrey, a guy who hadn't played since Dec. 22, was the future.

But maybe this was reality, since the team is 8-8 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12 Conference.

Maybe Huggins, pushed and pulled in so many directions by constant miscues and consistently ignored instructions, was speaking the truth when he said he was tired of leaning on Kilicli, Murray and Rutledge only to fall down.

Maybe Humphrey and other guards will play if WVU is to get out of neutral.

"We're going with a small lineup," Huggins said. "I'm not doing it anymore. I'm done. They've had ample opportunities, over half the season now. How can it be worse? We're 1-3. How can it be worse?"

Wednesday's first half must be dismissed as easily as Huggins appears to have dismissed the first half of this season. There was nothing wrong with the opening 20 minutes, but the game was decided by one run and defined by another in the second half.

The Mountaineers were their typically tepid selves on offense in the first half, but they played defense and rebounded. They were crushing the Big 12's best rebounding team on the boards and pacing the league's top-scoring team well below its average.

Then the second half started and the Cyclones flipped the script and forced Huggins to make his own edits. Iowa State went from up three points to up 18 and was having its way dribbling, passing, scoring and rebounding.

Huggins called three timeouts before his team scored three baskets.

"They ball-screened and our bigs didn't do anything, honestly," Huggins said. "It was our bigs. They were supposed to hedge hard and they didn't hedge hard. They just kind of stood there in the lane."

So Huggins basically abandoned the plan he'd followed all season, but had started moving away from just recently. Kilicli and Murray were moved out of the starting lineup three games ago. In their places were Kevin Noreen, the player Huggins trusts most - as long as he doesn't throw away key possessions like he has the past two games - and Rutledge, who got a spot mostly because he is big and isn't Kilicli or Murray.

When Wednesday's game changed, Huggins used guards Juwan Staten, Jabarie Hinds, Eron Harris and Matt Humphrey with Noreen. The Mountaineers were down 56-38 with 9:04 to go. They gave up 13 more points - a lot of points when you need to make a run.

Yet the Mountaineers made the run, outscoring Iowa State 29-11 to tie the score with 11.6 seconds to go. Every point was by one of the guards. Noreen screened and rebounded. Hinds made two 3-pointers and Harris and Humphrey both made three in the team's final 10 baskets.

That same team had made more than eight 3s two other times this season.

"We're going to have to play small now," Huggins said. "This is a different league than what we were in. It's officiated different. The style of play is different. We're going to have to change."

On the same night Huggins decided he no longer liked the bigger option, he may have re-discovered an element to the smaller option. He only played Humphrey out of desperation, so much so that Humphrey came in after Aaron Brown. Neither had played since Dec. 22. Brown lasted a minute before Humphrey played the final 10 minutes.

And on a normal night, when freshman and starting shooting guard Terry Henderson would be in the lineup and not home nursing a bad back that will keep him out an undetermined amount of time, Humphrey might not have gotten into the game.

"There's lots of stuff you can't control, so you come to work every day for when your coach calls your number," Humphrey said. "Other guys have been playing well, especially Terry, but (Wednesday) he wasn't with us. We needed other guys to step up and that was my role."

He nailed it. In the thick of an impressive push, Humphrey took four shots, each within the flow of the offense, and made three, each from behind the 3-point line.

"I needed another guy," Huggins said. "I get tired of saying the same thing to the same people day after day after day."

But here's where WVU is after 16 games: Wasn't Humphrey one of those people before he disappeared the previous four games, before he played just 24 minutes in all of December?

"How do I answer that?" Huggins said. "I think sitting over there has given Matt a greater appreciation for being on the floor and I think therefore he's accepted his role a little bit better. And we need that."

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


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