By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins’ West Virginia University basketball team is broken.
He says it’s his fault. He says he’s “embarrassed” by it.
Finally, he vows he’ll fix it.
That is not good news for the Mountaineer players who took part in Monday night/Tuesday morning’s opening-day 84-50 loss at Gonzaga, a team that beat the Mountaineers 77-54 to end last season in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Of all the problems that cropped up in a game that saw WVU possess but 18 points at the half, shoot but 27.3 percent from the floor, hit only three of 26 3-points shots, commit 20 turnovers while earning just eight assists — only one of them from starting point guard Juwan Staten, who also was 0-6 shooting — Huggins felt the worst sin was that his team did not compete.
“The first thing we have to do is find who wants to play and who doesn’t want to play,” he said.
That lack of fire, of grit, fortitude or effort, call it what you want, was what got to Huggins most. It wasn’t one or two players, but all of them, although Huggins did single out his big men for the severest of criticism.
“I want guys to compete,” he said. “Obviously, our bigs are either tremendously out of condition or they are cowards because they just laid it down.”
Cowards is not a word you hear come from a coach’s mouth speaking of his players, but that is how much this got to Huggins on this night.
“We’ve missed shots before. We’ve thrown it around a little bit before. But we’ve always competed. I think that’s the biggest problem I have about the team,” he said.
It was amazing that WVU was down 27 points by halftime, considering that Gonzaga opened going 1-for-12 from the floor, but it mattered not as the Mountaineers always obliged by giving the ball right back. They had 15 first-half turnovers.
“We are just not transferring what we do in drills into playing the game,” Huggins said. “We won’t make an extra pass. We are either incapable of passing the ball or we just won’t pass the ball ... but we’re going to fix it.
“I’m not very happy with Deniz (Kilicli) today, but in fairness to Deniz, when you go down there in the post and they keep looking you off, it’s hard to keep posting,” he continued.
Passing was only part of it, a part Huggins was well aware was a problem before taking the floor.
“Da’ (former star player and graduate assistant Da’Sean Butler) sits there every day and says to me, ‘Why don’t we pass the ball?’ We do 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 and Da’ is saying, ‘They don’t pass the ball, coach,’” Huggins said.
“Da’s right. We don’t pass the ball, but we don’t compete. We just don’t go compete.”
It seemed everything came back to that.
“I tried to give guys the benefit of the doubt, thinking they were freshmen last year, they’ll grow up. They haven’t grown up,” Huggins said.
He offered this example.
“I say don’t overrun the ball about 156 times. What did we do? We overran the ball about 10 times, and I’ll bet you the 10 times we overran the ball, they scored eight of them,” he said. “You know, it’s a selfish basketball play.
“I can remember being at practice at Cincinnati and Oscar (Robertson) was at practice. A guy overruns the ball and Oscar said to me, ‘That’s the dumbest play in basketball. Why would you overrun the ball? You put your teammates at a terrible disadvantage.’ Think about it; you are playing four on five now because you made a terrible basketball play.
“Oscar said to me, ‘Coach, you know I played a long time ... high school, college, Olympics, in the pros, and I never overran the ball one time. I was smart enough to know if I could get the ball or not get the ball. I was not going to put my teammates at a disadvantage. It’s a selfish basketball play.’”
Still they overrun the ball, so Huggins figures if they like running so much ...
“As I told them, some of them may want to go out for cross country because they’ll be on that treadmill so much,” Huggins said. “That’s the only thing they understand. That’s the only thing we can hold over them ... that and playing time.”
And then there was the matter of taking bad shots and not making them.
“I must have been an idiot when I played,” Huggins said. “If I’m shooting that bad, I’m not going to shoot it. I’m going to give it to other guys. Eight assists. What’s the last time you saw us with eight assists? Maybe never.”
Huggins is driven to make it change.
“I care way too much about this university, program and state for this to happen. It’s my job to fix it, and I’m going to fix it. It’s all on me. I will find a way to fix it,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.