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WVU basketball: Shooting for Mountaineers remains unsteady

NEW YORK - West Virginia's loss in the second round - and its first game - of the Big East Conference tournament was its 11th of the basketball season.

In the previous 10 defeats the Mountaineers averaged 39.2 percent shooting.

Slot that in the national rankings this season and it's right below Arkansas-Pine Bluff and right above Eastern Michigan. When the Mountaineers (20-11) are off, they're awfully off. What they do in losses would qualify as the 323rd-best shooting percentage among 335 Division I teams.

Coach Bob Huggins arrived at his press conference following the 67-61 loss to Marquette on Wednesday night, having just looked at a boxscore.

Take a wild guess what his Mountaineers shot in defeat - 39.2 percent.

"It's been a year-long problem," he said. "We just don't make open shots. I don't know what to tell you. I've said it and said it and said it. We just don't make open shots."

That's true, but not entirely true.

WVU was as hot in the first half as it had been all year and made 14-of-24 shots and 7-of-11 3-point attempts.

The 58.3 percent was better than every half of basketball this season except the first half of the opener against Oakland (66.7) and the second half seven games later against Robert Morris (63.3).

Considering the opponents and the occasion, what the Mountaineers were doing to the Golden Eagles probably made that WVU's best performance thus far.

It preceded the worst.

WVU, which has struggled in many second halves this season and put up shooting numbers that belong to CBI and CIT teams and not NCAA Tournament teams, was actually worse

Wednesday night than ever before - 6-for-22 for a dusty 22.2 percent.

"We don't have people who can drive it to the basket," Huggins said. "That's not the kind of guys we have. We have to depend on making some shots."

Truth be told, the Mountaineers don't have many of those either. But here's the thing: We already knew all of that.

WVU's stay here to defend its 2010 Big East Conference tournament championship was neither long nor lucrative, but it wasn't illuminating, either.

Even in defeat of a familiar fashion, the Mountaineers aren't ready to shed the swagger they had 48 hours ago. They feel no differently about who they are and what they can do.

"I don't," guard Truck Bryant said. "I feel like we can beat anybody in the (NCAA) draw, but we have to put in the effort and have the enthusiasm and get stops and rebound the basketball."

Not much really changed here. The Mountaineers came as a NCAA Tournament team and left as one. They were working with a No. 5 seed, perhaps a No. 6, and they're probably a No. 6 now and maybe a No. 5. They're more likely to reincarnate Georgia Tech's Lethal Weapon 3 than slip past a 7 seed.

Maybe the loss is the difference between playing games in Tampa as opposed to Washington, D.C., to start, but WVU doesn't much care where it gets to play postseason games, so long as it gets to play.

And now Huggins' fourth team and fourth NCAA Tournament team at WVU has a week to think about how it must play. The loss to Marquette, a team that matches up so well in so many areas with WVU, was a reminder of a few things the Mountaineers may have lost sight of in  winning their final three games of the season.

This is a team that knows it's going to struggle on offense and, when at its best, does everything within its powers to cover it up with defense and rebounding. That didn't happen against Marquette, a team that never relaxes and one that pounced when WVU paused.

WVU also is a team that, because of its lack of scorers and limited bench, can't afford too many guys to have off games. Yet that's also a group that sure seems to see a few of those bad games coincide. When the Mountaineers are in trouble, it's in games where more than one player or one thing isn't right.

On Wednesday, John Flowers was in foul trouble and Joe Mazzulla couldn't stop giving possessions to the other team, so WVU was without the usually reliable contributions from its best defender and most careful ball-handler. Kevin Jones was great in the first half with 13 points, but, like everyone else, not great in the second half.

That's the thing, though. WVU remains an inconsistent bunch. When it needed someone to get points in the second half, its best all-around player couldn't get it going and no one else had a fix.

This is a team that has now been outscored in the second half 11 times in 19 games against Big East opponents and four times by double figures. WVU has three losses now after taking a 10-point lead and six losses after leading at the half.

Why, WVU even extended its bizarre losing streak against schools whose names start with "M."

The Mountaineers are 0-2 against Marquette and 0-1 against Marshall, Miami and Minnesota this season - and wouldn't a 6 vs. 11 matchup against theme-extending, Coach John Beilein-guided Michigan be something to see?

Then again, those five games were decided by all of 22 points and none by more than six. It wouldn't have taken much for the Mountaineers to have a few wins, or even six, where there were losses. That includes Wednesday night when WVU, even with its problems, was once again right there at the end.

It's a small sample and a silly exercise, but it's indicative of the entire uneven season and one that changed very little in one night at the Garden.

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


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