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WVU basketball: Huggins said he can't reach his team

MORGANTOWN -- Bob Huggins had one of those all-too-familiar postgame press conferences Saturday, the one where he slumps behind a microphone after a West Virginia loss and dutifully answers questions about another game that got away during a season gone wrong.

More and more, and especially after the 73-57 loss to No. 14 Oklahoma State, it's seemed like these required reviews are therapeutic.

"We're a lot better than what we were, but I'm not going to lie to you: I never saw it coming. I never saw it coming," Huggins said, possibly arriving at the finish line of the seven stages of grief and all but accepting the fate of a team that will quite likely miss the postseason. "I've always kind of taken a lot of pride in the fact I could get guys to play hard. I could get guys to compete. People didn't like playing against us because we played so hard and we competed so hard. We tried to rebound the ball. We just did the right things.

"For some reason, I haven't been able to reach these guys, which is my fault. I should have been able to find a way to reach them."

What Huggins never saw coming is all that Matt Humphrey has experienced as a college basketball player. What Huggins misjudged is what Humphrey has come to know. What Huggins failed to calculate is what Humphrey has seen break teams.

Humphrey is the fifth-year senior in his first and only season with the Mountaineers, who are now 13-14 and 6-8 in the Big 12 Conference. This is Humphrey's third college team and he's still looking for a winner, though that seems far off after 30 percent shooting and 17 turnovers against the Cowboys inside the Coliseum dropped WVU to 1-12 against teams in the RPI's top 100.

He went first to Oregon in the fall of 2008. The Ducks were 8-23 overall and 2-16 in the Pac-10 his freshman season and then 16-16 and 7-11 a year later, which was the final season for longtime Coach Ernie Kent.

Humphrey, a Chicago native, transferred to Boston College and sat out the 2010-11 season. The Eagles were 9-22 last season and 4-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Humphrey has now played 121 college games and is 29 games below .500.

Only once has a team he's played for won more than three straight games - and Humphrey was injured and missed Oregon's six-game winning streak in 2009-10.

WVU has to win the final four games of the regular season to guarantee a record above .500 and give itself a chance to make the NIT.

Yet Humphrey, who's never played in the postseason, sees something in WVU that he saw at his other stops.

"Inexperience," he said. "All three teams had young guys. I guess the whole thing with guys being so good these days coming out of high school, it's like young guys are going to prevail. Sometimes at the end of the day, coming through and taking care of business at the age of 18, that's a hard thing to do.

"Sometimes guys don't do that right away and they have to be in college a few more years. It's OK. But it doesn't matter with winning games. I've seen a little bit of stuff as far as that."

For a majority of the season, Huggins has counted on four players in their first year in the program - freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson and transfers Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray. Staten and Murray were supposed to be pillars and Harris and Henderson eventual accessories, but the freshmen have taken on larger roles while the transfers have receded.

Humphrey would have been a fifth first-year player, but he's again missed time with a shoulder injury.

Harris, who starts, has extremely uneven first half and second half statistics and hasn't been a factor in the past two losses. Teammates have seen Henderson hesitate, even though his job is to shoot.

"There have been times the last couple of games he's had a shot and passed it up," forward Kevin Noreen said. "If he doesn't shoot it, something bad is going to happen. Everyone is working on the weak side to get the rebound. When he passes it, that doesn't result in anything good."

There are four true sophomores on WVU's roster and Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, Keaton Miles and Aaron Brown were supposed to be starters or key contributors. Hinds and Browne start, though one could listen to Huggins and believe it's by default, while Miles and Brown rarely play.

Huggins stumped himself Saturday when he wondered "why were my sophomores' numbers so much better a year ago than they are now? I mean, way better."  Huggins and Noreen, a redshirt sophomore, said there are sophomores who play and don't know what to do when Huggins calls for a set.

"I wouldn't play them if guys I had playing would do it right," Huggins said.

The Mountaineers not only lack an identity, they lack an individual. This is a team that has two 70-point games in Big 12 play, and one each against the league's worst two teams. WVU hasn't topped 66 points the past six games. Barring a scoring explosion from Murray, who scored 11 points Saturday and reached double figures the first time since a three-game streak ended with 12 points against Texas Tech Feb. 2, nobody will average double figures.

That hasn't happened to the Mountaineers since 1944. Humphrey isn't unfamiliar with the problem and believes WVU lacks "that guy," who can score, but also do other things to help WVU win.

"A lot of guys get stats and get it done, but may not win the game," Humphrey said. "Maybe (WVU needs) a guy who gets it done and wins the game, just that person who is an exceptional leader."

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

 


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