WVU basketball: Huggins stresses ball security
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- When West Virginia lost on the road by 20 points against Baylor two weeks ago, Coach Bob Huggins watched his team get outscored 49-33 in the second half, where it allowed the Bears to make 59 percent of their shots on the way to 51 percent shooting in the game.
The Mountaineers interchangeably failed or forgot to cover sharpshooter Brady Heslip, who made six 3-pointers. They also left 7-foot center Isaiah Austin open on the perimeter, where he made a 3-pointer against WVU.
WVU missed one-third of its 24 free-throw attempts and two-thirds of its 12 3-point attempts and watched a freshman forward come off the bench to score a career-high 22 points on just eight shots for the Bears.
Baylor's surprise stung even more because WVU's sure thing backfired when center Aaric Murray found early foul trouble on a night Huggins hoped Murray could make open jumpers against a defense that wouldn't extend to cover him.
Yet when asked before tonight's 8 p.m. rematch at the Coliseum what his team would have to do better against the Bears, Huggins not only overlooked each of those flaws, but he did so without much trouble.
"It's really pretty obvious: Not throw them the ball," Huggins said.
WVU had 18 turnovers in Waco, Texas - the since-matched second-highest total of the season - that went for 23 Baylor points. The Mountaineers turned the ball over in transition and in half-court sets, with offensive fouls and traveling calls and, most maddening for Huggins, with bad passes during play or on inbound plays.
"Sometimes I think our guys are colorblind," he said. "We have a tendency to just throw it to the wrong team at times. Live-ball turnovers have killed us. We just have not done a very good job with ball security."
The Mountaineers (13-14, 6-8 Big 12) give up an average of 15 points off turnovers each game and 16.5 points in Big 12 games.
WVU only allows 65.8 points per game and 64.4 in conference play, so overall, opponents get 22.8 percent of their points off of what the Mountaineers give them while Big 12 opponents receive more than 25 percent of their points off turnovers.
WVU isn't good enough on offense to make up for that and the challenge will be greater in tonight's game, televised locally on WQCW. Baylor (16-11, 7-7) has lost three in a row, but is still second in the Big 12 in scoring offense (75.3).
The Mountaineers are shooting and scoring at an increasingly slipping rate, but also losing 25 percent of their possessions in every Big 12 game.
That's an issue as obvious as WVU's perilous postseason positioning, but the concern for Huggins is that so much of it is preventable.
Teams will commit charges and travel. They'll have the ball stolen and sometimes do something silly, like dribble a ball off a Nike.
Many of WVU's errors are committed with erratic passes to teammates and opponents and the occasional spectator, whether seated courtside or a few rows deep.
"My dad used to say all the time, 'Pass the ball, don't throw the ball,' " Huggins said of famed Ohio high school coach Charlie Huggins. "I've tried not to be my dad, but I find myself saying, 'Pass the ball, don't throw the ball.'
"I guess it's kind of one of those deals where the older you get, the smarter he was, but we throw the ball. We don't pass the ball. We made passes (Saturday) where there was nobody in the vicinity."
WVU had 17 turnovers in the loss to Oklahoma State, including three in succession, all on bad passes, to start a Cowboys run that put them in control for good. That followed a string of 18, 18 and 13 turnovers in games beginning with the loss at Baylor.
Many of those turnovers are passes, but even passes that aren't thrown out of bounds or to the opposition can be adventurous for WVU. The Mountaineers give away possessions with turnovers, but they also give away possessions when the ball stays in their hands.
Players frequently have to leap or lunge or reach to the side or to their feet to get an ordinary pass.
The time spent catching and recovering slows the offense, letting defenses recover to get out against an open shooter or sink inside against a player close to the basket or to pounce and pressure to force a subsequent error.
WVU's motion offense requires quick passes, often in succession, to hit a player on the move or get the ball to someone open away from the ball. It can't afford the sputtering that bad passes provide. It removes advantages the offense is supposed to provide and the Mountaineers haven't proven good enough to overcome that and create offense on their own.
"I can't understand it," Huggins sad. "People say, 'Well, why do you do that?' Hell, I don't know. I have no idea. I've never seen that before. Just when I think I've seen everything, we'll throw one where there's nobody anywhere around it. And you can't say drill it any more and work it any more than what we have."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.