Chuck McGill: Can WVU make Big 12 run? Huggins says 'it's never too late'
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Bob Huggins' tone, as per usual this season, was as dark as his WVU pullover after the Mountaineers lost for the sixth consecutive time Saturday.
In his 1,008-game, 31-year coaching career, he never had experienced what transpired Saturday when the final second ticked off the clock at the Coliseum.
Only once had Huggins oversaw a team that dropped five straight games, but never six. The five-game slide came in his first season as a basketball coach (1980-81) when Walsh University lost to Wooster, Heidelberg, Bethany, Fairmont State and Urbana before stopping the skid with a win over Rio Grande.
Iowa State held on to defeat West Virginia, 83-74, Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale of the Mountaineers' inaugural Big 12 season.
The loss dropped WVU to 13-18 overall, just Huggins' third losing season. The other two were his first seasons at Walsh (12-14) and Akron (14-16). This season was worse in terms of total losses and winning percentage.
The 6-12 Big 12 record is Huggins' first sub-.500 mark in league play since his first year at Akron (6-8). For perspective, in Cincinnati's first five years as a Conference USA member, Huggins lost 13 league games combined.
The only way Huggins won't miss his first postseason since 1988-89 is if West Virginia wins four games in four days this week at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.
This is a team that has won four games in the past 46 days.
So, looking for a glimmer of hope as eighth-seeded WVU opens Big 12 tournament play Wednesday against ninth-seeded Texas Tech?
WVU did, surprisingly, whittle away at Iowa State's 27-point second-half lead to pull with four, 76-72, with 48 seconds left. The Mountaineers followed their 20-point first-half performance (second worst this season to the 18 first-half points scored at Gonzaga on Nov. 12) to turn in their best single-half scoring output with 54 points in the second half Saturday.
They came up short, but is there any way to parlay that finish into an improbable run this week?
Improbable because the lowest seed to ever win the Big 12 tournament title is a No. 3 seed. No team has ever won four games in four days to claim the league's automatic NCAA berth, although ninth-seeded Baylor lost in the title game in 2009 and No. 10 seed Missouri fell short in the finals in 1997.
Those are Big 12 history lessons. Huggins felt compelled to share his own Saturday.
In 1965, a struggling WVU team lost six consecutive games and 11 of 14 heading into its regular-season finale against Virginia Tech.
After pummeling the Hokies by 54 points, the Mountaineers beat George Washington, No. 6 Davidson and William & Mary on consecutive days to clinch the Southern Conference championship and NCAA tournament berth.
WVU entered the NCAA tournament 14-14 and promptly lost to No. 4 Providence. The Mountaineers' men's basketball program has 25 NCAA appearances, but that's the only one of those seasons that has ended with a losing record.
If Huggins' bunch could find a way to navigate its first Big 12 tournament unscathed, they'd enter the postseason with a losing record. They're in a similar spot as the '65 team, but without the benefit of a season-ending triumph to catapult them into tournament play.
That was the opportunity missed in front of 9,413 Coliseum fans Saturday, although the Mountaineers outscored the Cyclones by 15 in the second half and by 23 during a 14-minute, 58-second stretch.
"If we started the way we played the second half, I think we would've beat them by 15," WVU's Deniz Kilicli said after his final game inside the Coliseum.
Now these Mountaineers - with the third-most losses in program history - need to play that way for, at least, 160 minutes starting this Wednesday.
"It's never too late," Huggins said Saturday.
"As long as you're still standing, you might as well fight."
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949.