MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The West Virginia men's basketball season might have taken a step closer Wednesday night to a conclusion not seen here since John Beilein's first season 10 years ago.
With Wednesday's loss to Baylor, WVU plummeted well below .500 in Big 12 Conference play with the final road games of the season in the next five days.
Yet Bob Huggins, without a losing record since 1986 and quite likely on the cusp of delivering his alma mater's first sub.-500 record since 2003, is still trying to get his Mountaineers pointed in the right direction.
"He's trying as hard as he can," said senior Deniz Kilicli, who knows and probably admires Huggins more than any player on the roster.
"He's a coach who's won all his life and I'm sure he's never had a season like this in his whole career. He's trying to find stuff for us."
This isn't new. Huggins has gone from his motion offense to a dribble-drive offense and back this season. He's leaned on groups of big and tall players and then short and quick players. He's had more lineups than the NYPD. And in the 65-62 loss to the Bears, who had lost three straight games since beating WVU by 20 points at home two weeks earlier, Huggins put two more changes into effect.
He sat Jabarie Hinds on the bench for the start of the game for the second time in his career and only let him play for six minutes after one badly missed shot and a turnover. He moved Gary Browne out of the starting lineup and only gave him nine minutes and one missed shot. Aaron Brown and Keaton Miles never took off their warmups.
They're all sophomores and that's probably not a coincidence after Huggins finally bubbled over following Saturday's home loss to Oklahoma State and spilled his frustrations with his second-year players. Center Aaric Murray returned to the starting lineup, but again couldn't stay on the floor and played just four minutes with a missed shot and a turnover.
"If there is such a thing as feeling better, I feel better because we did play hard," Huggins said. "I got all the pouters out of the game and let them sit on the bench and pout. They are not going to pout on the floor anymore."
Throughout the season, all Huggins has asked for is seven or eight players to do enough good things to help the team, or at least not do a bunch of bad things to unravel it. That he's still sorting says he still doesn't have that.
There's no denying it, even as Kilicli vows not to quit and to maintain hope before, during and after Saturday's 2 p.m. game at Kansas (WOWK telecast) and then Wednesday's 9 p.m. game at Oklahoma (ESPN2).
"It's just that we are just bad, and that's OK," Kilicli said. "You can do the hustle plays and be a bad player. You can rebound and steal the ball and stuff like that and help the team. Nobody wants to call themself a bad player. That's the problem. Nobody's honest with each other or with themselves."