WVU basketball: Huggins, Mountaineers not sure how to fix problems
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia doesn't know.
Doesn't know what the problems are. Doesn't know why so many still exist. Doesn't know how to fix them. Definitely doesn't know how to explain it all after Saturday's 13-point lead turned into a 14-point loss to Oklahoma State and left the Mountaineers one game below .500 entering tonight's 9 o'clock ESPN-televised game against No. 3 Kansas.
"I don't know, man," said West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins, who has been coaching for 31 seasons and hasn't finished below .500 since his first. "I don't know. I've never had guys like this."
For 14:28 at Iba-Gallagher Arena on Saturday, the Mountaineers looked capable of extending whatever momentum had been established with Wednesday's 71-50 win against TCU.
WVU led 24-11 and was shooting an unusual 55 percent. The Cowboys had no offensive rebounds or points off turnovers. The Mountaineers were keeping the OSU offense on one half of the floor and shutting down almost every half-court set.
Then things went bad very fast and WVU was outscored 19-6 in the final 5:32. OSU led 30-27 at the half and never trailed in the second half, where the lead grew to be as large as 19 points on the way to an 80-66 win.
"I don't know," senior forward Deniz Kilicli said. "It is really hard to put my finger on it. I don't know what's going on."
The Mountaineers (9-10, 2-4 Big 12) have lost five of their past seven games and will go all of January without winning back-to-back games. They've lost five games by double figures and two of those came after leading by at least 12 points.
"We need to focus longer," guard Eron Harris said. "We're a good team. Everyone can see the potential. We have to sustain it. That's the problem."
That's a problem across sports, though, and WVU's way is complicated because the players have to play so hard for so long to cover up mental and physical shortcomings. The solution isn't readily accessible for the Mountaineers.
"I don't know," Harris said. "We watch film for hours. They give us the scouting report on paper and on the screen and we go through every player and what they do and what they don't do and, I don't know, but at some point in time, some players don't listen. Some players don't remember."
For a time, the Mountaineers were an unusual collection of players. They started a freshman and two first-season transfers, one sophomore and one senior. Early off the bench were a sophomore, a freshman and a junior college transfer.
That has changed a lot during the season. Huggins has used a starting lineup with four guards and a bigger lineup with two sizeable post players. He has leaned on and backed away from his motion offense. He has tried to add dribble-drive elements and he's hoped to play faster.
Nothing has stuck and WVU mostly tries to match up every game with the opponent. Yet none of the Mountaineers believe their problems are physical, or even personal, in nature.
"I don't know where everybody's head is at," Kilicli said. "That's the big problem. I don't know what you call that, chemistry, or whatever, but before this, I knew exactly what everyone was thinking. It was easy to motivate people. It was easy to motivate guys when they were down. That just doesn't happen anymore."
WVU suffered from that unfamiliarity against the Cowboys. A few WVU players simply deserted OSU guard Phil Forte in the first and second halves. Forte is his team's most dangerous 3-point shooter and the Mountaineers were apparently given specific instructions not to leave Forte to go discourage a separate opponent's drive or pass or to help a teammate in the paint.
Again and again in both halves, though, Mountaineers strayed from Forte, who found space and made three 3-pointers.
"That's the total problem in connection," Kilicli said. "We (were told) don't come help off that guy. Period. The only thing he can do is get the ball and shoot it. He's not a threat to dribble the ball. He's not going to play pick-and-roll or anything. He's going to shoot the ball, so don't come off of him on (the) ball side."
That was just one of a handful of illustrations, though. Huggins thought his team could handle OSU's pressure defense up until foul trouble forced him to make substitutions he thought might mean trouble for WVU.
He was right.
He tried to slow things down when OSU was in a zone defense and use sets or even timeouts to get favorable offense.
He was wrong.
"I think if you look historically at my teams, we've scored at an extremely high rate after timeouts. But I can't get these guys on the right side of the floor," Huggins said. "It's not like they don't know the stuff. I don't know what the explanation is. I don't even know what they're doing.
"When you say, 'Triple stack on this side of the floor,' and you draw it up, 'You're here, you're here and you're here,' and two guys are stacked and one guy is standing out on the wing, I don't know what to do with that."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.