By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There is reality at work here with West Virginia University’s Mountaineers, and, while coach Bob Huggins realizes it, he’s not so sure that his team fully grasps the meaning of it.
It was in the aftermath of Saturday night’s bitter 88-71 loss at Texas that he spoke of it.
“It’s a deal where they have really good players, a bunch of them,” he began, a reality backed up by the fact that the Longhorns are a solid No. 2 in the Big 12 behind Kansas.
“We’ve got good players,” he continued, “but the truth of the matter is, are we ever going to have the five best players in America? Probably not.”
Fair enough assessment.
Yet, Huggins wasn’t throwing in the towel.
“Can we have the five guys who play the best together? Yeah, we can,” he said answering his own question. “That’s what we have to strive for.”
Having the five best individuals is one thing. It guarantees that every night will be “Showtime,” yes, and on most nights it guarantees that you will win on ability alone.
But playing together as a team builds a different kind of strength. It is a page out of “The Three Musketeers” … “One for all, all for one.”
Call it, if you must, “The Five Mountaineers.”
Team play … it is something that they have pretty much mastered on offense, but defensively, it is a problem, and it cropped up again against Texas just when Huggins thought they were beginning to understand the concept and becoming able to perform it.
“We don’t make rotations defensively,” he said. “This group just stands and watches and watches and watches.”
He wasn’t about to blame his young team this time around.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “You get so caught up in trying to make sure you are prepared getting ready for what people are going to do to you that maybe you don’t spend enough time on the other things.
“If you don’t teach kids to play through plays every single day, they probably aren’t going to. We haven’t gotten to 50-50 balls. They don’t block out every time. We just give too much penetration.”
Texas lived inside against West Virginia, scored 46 points in the paint, had 10 dunks.
“We told them we have to fortify the paint. We cannot let them attack the paint, not by pass or by dribble. They score 46 points in the paint. We’re not going to win. We’re just flat not going to win,” Huggins said.
And, of course, they didn’t win.
While taking blame, Huggins also has had it with what transpired. He believes his players have to take some responsibility on themselves for fixing it.
“I’m tired of hearing, ‘Well, they’re freshmen.’ When you tell a freshman for three straight days, ‘Don’t let them walk you up the lane; when they start to walk you up the lane, get on the basket side’ … and they scored their first six points on dunks because we let them walk us up the lane instead of getting around and getting on the basket side,” Huggins said.
“Those things they can fix. There are a lot of things I’ve got to help fix … but those things they can fix.”
It’s called execution.
“I thought we did a pretty good job today in walkthrough, then the game started and, honest to God, it was like we hadn’t talked about it. I thought during walkthrough, ‘We’re finally getting it. They’re starting to make some rotations,’” Huggins said.
Then they began to play, and Texas’ talent came together while WVU wasn’t ready to handle it.
“Texas is good. There were three times I remember (Isaiah) Taylor jumped up to make a pass to a guy and we were set to run through it and he changed – in the air — and threw it to another guy. That’s special. There’s not a lot of guys who can do that,” Huggins praised.
“Sometimes that’s going to happen, but it shouldn’t happen after all the time we spend working against it. We have to do a better job. I have to do a better job. I have to do a better job of getting them to understand and getting them to play.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.