MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There are many ways to look back on West Virginia's loss Thursday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and most of them are probably correct.
The Mountaineers endured a staggeringly slow start that ultimately cost them the game against Missouri. Yet they were resilient again, as they were against Wisconsin, and shot, guarded and even rebounded their way back into things late in the game.
The Tigers led by 25 points with 9:45 left to play, but were defending WVU and a seven-point lead with a minute to go, where Juwan Staten, of all players, committed a critical turnover.
So WVU was either destructively erratic early or optimistically effective late. Or both. Maybe it was entirely uncharacteristic or more representative of the Mountaineers than a rather manageable schedule has thus far revealed.
What's certain, though, is that these Mountaineers, as constructed with a roster heavy on first-year players and perimeter scoring and light on experience and inside play, will have nights like that.
"I hope not," said Coach Bob Huggins, who takes another step into the deep end of the non-conference schedule with Tuesday's 9 p.m. home game against No. 19 Gonzaga (8-1). "It's happened a few times already."
Three times, in fact, for a team that's now 6-3 overall after the 80-71 loss to Missouri and 0-3 against teams from power conferences and with the three lowest shooting percentages of the season. Losses to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and now Missouri were marked by stretches where WVU played well enough to win, but also poorly enough to lose. Each was missing that one sequence where the Mountaineers bridged the good play to a winning conclusion.
"When things get tough, we are able to come back and get in the game, but we can't spend the whole season trying to come back every single game," said sophomore guard Eron Harris, who personified WVU's trouble against Missouri and its 3-2 zone with a season-low eight points on 3-for-6 shooting.
The Mountaineers led Virginia Tech by 17 points in the first half Nov. 12 and trailed by 14 in the second half, but was within a point late in an 87-82 loss. In the championship game of the Cancun Challenge Nov. 27, WVU trailed Wisconsin by 17 in the first half, but was within four points late in a 70-63 loss.
The trouble was evident early against the Tigers. WVU didn't make score a point for five minutes and didn't make a basket for another two minutes after that, but Huggins sensed trouble even earlier.
"To start the game, we force them into taking a hard shot, and they miss, and we don't block out," Huggins said. "They rebound and score."