By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sometimes this coaching thing is simpler than even the best of coaches make it.
They run their drills, teach their fundamentals, work on the psychological angles that can affect a game, and sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.
Then every once in a while a team simply catches on.
Coaching? Yeah, it’s part of it, but it’s more likely just timing, and if this West Virginia University team is going to have that turnaround there is no time like the present.
Could a win, even one in which the Mountaineers weren’t particularly good such as the victory they just scored over a dreadful TCU team, offer the spark that ignites a run?
“That’s our hope,” coach Bob Huggins admitted before leaving for today’s 1 p.m. game at Oklahoma State, a team that is 12-5 but 2-3 in conference play like WVU’s 9-9 team.
While the untrained eye saw little encouraging in the TCU game, Huggins sensed something may have been happening … not that he hasn’t sensed similar things in other games this season.
“I thought for 25 minutes of the game we played the way we have played in the past, with a lot of ball pressure. I thought our help was good,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily rotate the way we need to rotate every time, but the help was good.”
He was talking defense, of course, and certainly there was a good bit of defense in the game, but it came against one of the nation’s most inept offensive teams in the Horned Frogs.
Still, it came and that could offer a team the one thing a coach really can’t … confidence.
A team can’t believe in itself until it gives itself something to believe in. Defense has always been the pillar upon which Huggins builds his teams, and that’s where he is going with this team as it goes against an extremely athletic team on a foreign court.
“We have to go back to what we are good at, and that’s ball pressure. Ball pressure has a tendency to take people out of sets,” Huggins explained.
When WVU has been at its best, it has been due to defensive pressure more than anything else, and when it has been at its worst, it has had no pressure at all.
“You go back to when we had no ball pressure, and Purdue ran pretty much what they wanted to run,” Huggins said, referring to an ugly 79-52 loss at Purdue. “We have to take people out of what they want to do. That’s what defense is about. People don’t want to do things they are not comfortable doing.”
Of course, you reach that point through hard work and practice, but the ignition sometimes can come from spontaneous combustion, almost a freak of nature where it just takes hold at once, and the way this season has gone, that appears to be the last hope for this team that is struggling to finish above .500 for the season.
The other side of court, however, may be more of a concern than the defense. With the priority Huggins puts on that aspect of the game, the players at least know that if they don’t play defense they don’t play.
But the offensive ineptitude of this team has really been the most mystifying aspect of it, and Huggins hasn’t been able to do much with it.
WVU has simply been a team that can’t put the ball in the basket … not from up close or far away.
Could the Mountaineers come out of this shooting funk that has them ranked 318th out of 345 Division I teams in shooting percentage at 39.4 without warning?
“I’m sure hoping that,” Huggins said. “We kind of did in the Iowa State game. That was a part of that.”
But despite a decent shooting effort against Iowa State, it did not carry over.
“A lot of it is confidence,” Huggins said, thinking back to the TCU game. “It’s just, I think everyone thought Terry Henderson was our best perimeter shooter and he goes 1-for-4 and had great looks.”
There was, of course, an excuse there as Henderson had missed two games with a back problem.
But no one is shooting well, freshman Eron Harris being the best of the group and coming off a 19-point game against TCU in which he hit five of six field goal tries.
Huggins hopes others catch on.
“Gary Browne shoots 80 percent from the free-throw line. He ought to be able to make a shot,” the coach said. “Jabarie Hinds has not had a good field-goal percentage but the majority of that is because of the shots he takes going to the basket.”
West Virginia’s inability to make baskets has led to a statistical abnormality for the Mountaineers are statistically a strong offensive rebounding team.
“We give ourselves a lot of opportunities. What are we, 270 something in field goal percentage?” Huggins asked, being informed it was even worse than that.
“There’s 20-some teams who shoot worse than us in the whole country, so we give ourselves a lot of chances,” he said, adding, “and we aren’t finishing off those second-chances like we should.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.