WVU basketball: Mountaineers keep finding new ways to lose games
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins has this one-liner that may be a coping mechanism at this point, but nevertheless establishes the level of expectations for his team.
"We ought to be used to not making shots," the West Virginia men's basketball coach said again after Saturday's 79-52 loss to Purdue. "We're very proficient at it."
By that logic, the Mountaineers, ranked No. 322 in field-goal percentage (39.1) and No. 328 in 3-point percentage (28.3), should understand after 17 games that they need to rescue themselves from themselves. They must do other things to win if they can't put the ball through the hoop.
Those things are not happening. WVU is actually finding new ways to complicate games. Officials whistled three double dribbles Saturday and the Mountaineers had more turnovers than assists for a fifth straight game.
"It just seems like every time I think I've maybe got something figured out, they just say, 'Ah, we can screw this up,' " Huggins said.
For a team that can give up a points and shooting percentages at an alarming rate, a group that's been outrebounded eight times, a roster of players with a habit of wiping sleep from their eyes at the start of the second half, it might be shortsighted to rest WVU's trouble on the shoulders of the offense.
Yet it might also be accurate. A lot of WVU's defensive, rebounding and intangible struggles can be attached to the offense.
"I don't think there's any question," Huggins said. "I think when you score you probably have more energy."
On an ordinary day, WVU doesn't do much with its possessions. There are about 67 in a game and WVU averages a very ordinary point per possession. The Mountaineers gave away 17 of those possessions with turnovers against the Boilermakers, who capitalized for 23 points toward their second-highest final score of the year.
Thirteen turnovers came in the first half, when the game was mostly decided.
The Mountaineers were outrebounded 44-34 against Purdue, a very good rebounding team that had averaged a plus-seven margin entering the game. Yet the margin in the second half, when WVU had to find a way, was plus-11.
WVU played with a collection of smaller players, though, after Huggins vowed to do so following last Wednesday's loss at Iowa State. More guards meant more shots, which meant more misses the Boilermakers were able to rebound after smartly crowding the paint.
"When we play four guards, we're much quicker and we can attack the rim more and we're supposed to get easier shots," WVU point guard Juwan Staten said. "On the defensive end, it's harder to guard them and they've got bigger players so it's kind of hard to rebound out of it."
Matt Humphrey slid into the starting lineup so the Mountaineers could play small.
He made an early 3-pointer and Aaron Brown followed with one off the bench to tie the score 6-6. Yet Humphrey committed two fouls early and had to come out of the game.
"He had two of the dumbest fouls any human can possibly make," Huggins said. "He fouls underneath the basket twice. Why? Why would you do that? Why would you do that, particularly when I went on a tangent (Friday) about guys fouling way out on the perimeter?"
The Mountaineers were playing without starting guard Terry Henderson, who missed a second straight game with a back injury. Huggins had to play big and that lineup, the one Huggins wanted to avoid, was outscored by 10 points before he reverted to the four guards.
Huggins played the smaller lineup the final 11 minutes of the game after the bigger lineup was outscored by seven points in a brief stretch, and Purdue shot 53.8 percent in the second half. It's the 10th time an opponent has been above 50 percent in a half this season and the seventh time it happened in a second half.
"You'd think with four guards we should be able to stay in front of people better," West Virginia shooting guard Jabarie Hinds said.
Or control the ball better. There were only six assists in the game. The Mountaineers have had at least 11 turnovers in nine consecutive games after averaging 10.8 the first eight games. The average is now 12.5 per game.
"The plan was to spread the floor out, attack with the dribble-drive and kick to the open person," Hinds said.
WVU didn't do much on the perimeter, missing 15 of 18 3-point shots, and many drives went into congested areas.
"The motion stuff that we'd run, when had guys that would and could pass ball, used to be a thing of beauty," Huggins said. "We cut people up pretty good. But when you can't or won't pass it, it makes it hard."
WVU (8-9, 1-3 Big 12) has never lost four games in a row under Huggins and can keep that intact Wednesday with a home win against TCU (9-9, 0-5). The 7:30 p.m. game at the Coliseum will be televised on ESPN2. Then again, this season has been full of surprises for Huggins, who admits he "just didn't see it coming."
"The hope is that when you do those things that you play so much harder to try to get a stop to get the ball back to get yourself back into the game," Huggins said. "Obviously that doesn't happen."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.