WVU basketball: Flawed Mountaineers fall to Heslip, Bears
WACO, Texas -- All season long, West Virginia has had this one bizarre habit that stands out among its other visible flaws.
The Mountaineers are prone to terrible trouble inbounding the basketball.
Anyone who's watched them play could understand. Those who haven't might not understand the struggle with one of the game's most simple acts.
"It's happened all year long," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "You can't drill everything every day. As it is, we go three hours and everybody thinks I'm insane. We go three hours, but you can't drill everything every day. At some point, you have to be a basketball player."
Twice Wednesday night in the Ferrell Center, the Mountaineers committed turnovers on inbound plays under the basket to give Baylor two important field goals in its 80-60 victory.
On WVU's second possession of the game, guard Gary Browne threw the ball over a crowd of players and into the path of Baylor's Pierre Jackson, who scooted the other way for a layup. It was part of three straight turnovers to start the game as the Bears took a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish. The Mountaineers were forced into an uphill battle on the road early, though they would forge five ties in the first half.
"I don't know what they ran when we threw them the ball the first time," Huggins said. "I have no idea. I've never seen that out of bounds play. We've never lined up like that. I've never seen it. I don't know what the hell they were doing."
Much later, and at a much more important stage in the second half, WVU trailed by nine points and Huggins would call a timeout to make sure his team, which was down just four points at the half, didn't get blown away before the surging crowd of 6,573.
When play resumed, Browne, who checked into the game during the timeout, held onto the ball for too long and was called for a five seconds violation, the fourth turnover in just 4:50 of the half.
"If we can't hear the coach, the point guard is supposed to call a play," WVU guard Eron Harris said. "I guess he didn't know what to call and then it was too late. We ended up running around and he couldn't get the ball in."
The Mountaineers were frazzled while the Bears were calculated.
They inbounded the ball quickly to Brady Heslip, who made his second 3-pointer in 10 seconds for a 48-36 lead, largest of the game at that point. WVU never got within single digits the rest of the way and would trail by as many as 24 points.
WVU's three-game winning streak, which matched the longest of the season, came to an end. The Mountaineers fell to 1-9 against teams in the RPI 100. Each of their wins in the streak and all five in conference play are against the teams in the three bottom spots of the conference standings. WVU is one spot above those three in the 10-team conference.
For better or for worse, WVU (12-12, 5-6 Big 12) has six more opportunities against top-100 teams in the final seven games. The exception is Saturday's home game against Texas Tech (9-13, 2-9).
That's followed quickly by a Big Monday game at No. 10 Kansas State (19-5, 8-3) and then five more against the top 100, including a rematch at home against Baylor (16-8, 7-4).
"I don't think it's a confidence-breaker," WVU guard Jabarie Hinds said. "It's a bump in the road. We got blown out on the road, but it's not the end of the world."
It felt like more like it every time Heslip was left open to strike on the way to six 3s and 20 points.
"You can't leave Heslip open," Huggins said. "He's going to make shots. Everyone in America knows that except the seven or eight guys I had guarding him -- or not guarding him."
Rico Gathers came off the bench to score 22 points, outscoring WVU's bench by two points on his own. It was a career-high and just the fourth time the 6-foot-8, 260-pound freshman forward has reached double figures.
"We do that to people," Huggins said. "That's one thing we're pretty proficient at, helping guys have a career night."
Jackson, the Big 12's preseason player of the year and the league's leading scorer, had 15 points and nine assists. The Bears put together a showy second half, making 16 of 27 shots (59.3 percent), 5 of 10 3-point attempts and 12 of 14 free-throw attempts. Assists came on 14 of the 16 second-half baskets on the way to scoring 49 points and outscoring WVU by 16.
Harris led the Mountaineers with 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting. Deniz Kilicli added 13 points and Hinds had eight, but all in the first half. He shot 0-for-3 in the second half.
WVU turned the ball over 18 times in the 24th game of the season, two shy of the season high in the season-opening loss to Gonzaga.
The Bears had 23 points off turnovers with 13 coming in the second half.
"We threw the ball to them," Huggins said. "We had live ball turnovers and they scored on them and then we started to hang our heads and they beat us in transition."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.