By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A year ago around this time of year, West Virginia University traveled up to Pittsburgh to play Duquesne in a game it fully expected to win, even though the Mountaineers were off to a shaky 4-3 start at the time.
To make matters worse, coach Bob Huggins knew it was something of a trap game, for laying ahead was a trip to Brooklyn to face John Beilein and a Michigan team that would make its way to the NCAA final.
“It is funny, because the coach told us if you guys don’t win Duquesne the rest of the season will be miserable,” Gary Browne, the guard, recalled. “We were supposed to win that game and when we lost, we didn’t think about it at first, but as time went on we kind of realized.”
Huggins was right. It turned into a miserable season, a losing season that included no post-season play.
Now Duquesne is here again, and WVU comes into it off a game it should have won against a Virginia Tech team that seemed to be nothing special, a team it had built a 17-point lead against before spitting it up.
That game, as bad a loss as it became, didn’t seem to discourage this young, ambitious Mountaineer team.
“I feel this was different. Even though we lost, the guys know what we’re capable of doing. That’s one thing we can take out of that, even though I hate losing,” Browne said.
“We know we can be real good. First half, we were outstanding. We scored 82 points. We never had that last year.”
But they must beat Duquesne in a 4 p.m. home game today to teach themselves that the idea isn’t to feel you played well or to score 82 points, but to win.
Huggins knows it won’t be easy because the Dukes are never conventional.
“A year ago we thought they’d press and run up and down and they didn’t; they packed it in, and it was obviously a smart thing to do. They won,” he said.
This year he’s looking for them to open up.
“I think what they would like to do is press, speed the game up, score out of transition. Everybody has the green light; they all shoot it,” he said.
That might be hard to do against a WVU team that has speed and is guard- and forward-oriented with Browne, Juwan Staten, Eron Harris, and Terry Henderson, who figures to play more as he comes back off injury.
The problem is you never are sure what Duquesne will come up with.
“They’ll invert sometimes with their big guys out running a three-man weave,” Huggins said. “I don’t know if the word is unconventional, but they’ll do some things you don’t see a lot.”
That will be helpful later in the season as this young team will face all sorts of different approaches as it goes through the Big 12 season.
It is important that Huggins first get his team back to full health. Henderson is recovering from a leg injury and French newcomer Remi Dibo is still coming back from knee surgery.
“He struggled a little at first because of the knee surgery, trying to figure out what’s going on. Now we’re trying to get him to understand what’s a good shot and not a good shot in terms of what’s going on at the time,” Huggins said of Dibo.
At the same time Browne, who is the most improved player out there for the Mountaineers, has battled a deep thigh contusion he picked up in practice that has limited his mobility but has not kept him off the court.