The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

January 5, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Tough-nosed WVU finding ways to win

MORGANTOWN — At this point in the 2013-14 basketball season, no one knows for sure what fate awaits West Virginia University.

Surely it is not the most talented team Bob Huggins has ever coached, but it is displaying something from within that makes you wonder if it might not actually become one of the most overachieving teams he’s had in his career.

Certainly, one cannot exaggerate the 74-69 victory over TCU in the Big 12 opener, even though it was a prized road victory, for TCU’s basketball history is hardly legendary and the five points simply matched the figure WVU was favored by going in.

But once again, this victory came more from the heart than strategy Huggins could have dreamed up. It was a game won not by slick passes or rafter-shaking slam dunks.

It came about because this is a team that brings a lunch pail to the arena and wears a uniform equipped with a blue collar, trimmed in gold, of course.

A week ago the symbol of West Virginia’s work ethic and heart was found in the blood running out of Nathan Adrian’s broken nose, a first-half injury that not only couldn’t keep him out of the second half, but through which the freshman from Morgantown put together his finest collegiate performance.

This time the symbol also could be found in fluid running out of a Mountaineers’ nose, but it wasn’t blood. This time it was part and parcel of the flu bug that had hit sophomore Eron Harris.

Anyone who has ever had the flu understands just how weak and sick you can feel.

Playing basketball is not among the recommended ways to fight it, but this was the Big 12 opener and Harris was not about to miss that.

Surely, WVU needs him, for he is the key offensive weapon in their arsenal, the leading scorer in the Big 12 with an 18.6 average entering the game.

Huggins wasn’t expecting that kind of number out of him on this day.

In fact, he didn’t start him, figuring he’d bring him off the bench and see what he had.

Harris knew he had some baskets in him.

“If you didn’t know I had the flu you couldn’t tell by looking at me,” he said to a reporter after the game.

The problem was, everyone knew because Huggins had mentioned it during his pre-game radio interview.

And, in telling the world that Harris was ailing, Huggins openly disagreed with Harris’s assessment of the way he looked with the flu.

“He does not look good,” Huggins told his radio audience. “He looks like he just got up.”

With the flu, there was a good chance he had just gotten up.

And listening to Huggins, you could detect a bit of congestion in his voice.

“Whatever it is, he has just given it to me,” Huggins admitted.

As it was last week with Adrian, Harris was not going to be denied for he came off the bench and put on a show, dropping in some long 3s, as he does so often, and being on the sky-high of a spectacular alley-oop backdoor pass from Juwan Staten off a great Adrian screen.

To see these players shake off ailments that would sideline less-determined, less-dedicated players is what is making it seem there are no limitations on this team.

Oh, it has its work to do, for those five non-conference losses are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome in as good a conference as the Big 12 is.

But if it takes going beyond and above, WVU seems ready to take that route.

See, it isn’t just Adrian and Harris – or Huggins, for that matter – who are pushing on.

Freshman Brandon Watkins, too, has had his difficulties since having a couple of teeth knocked out last week in practice.

“It wasn’t easy for Brandon getting rods put into his gums this week,” Huggins noted.

But there he was, giving them 12 minutes in this victory over TCU spelling Devin Williams.

It may not have been a performance to match his game against Marshall, but doing anything but taking pain pills is an accomplishment after spending any time with the dentist.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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