By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The words that were coming out of Bob Huggins’ mouth in his post-game discussions of West Virginia University’s 20-point loss to Baylor, 80-60, on Wednesday were startling if for no other reason than it showed how miserably the Hall of Fame coach-to-be had failed to get this year’s team to improve.
Oh, a recent three-game winning streak against the lower ladder of the Big 12 had shown improvement in shooting and defense, maybe, but when it comes to playing the game … well, it just wasn’t happening.
Here the team was 24 games into the season and it was doing things … well, it was doing things that Huggins couldn’t even recognize.
Honest … and it came early, before there were excuses about fouls putting players on the bench or trying to improvise in desperation.
It started with the game’s second possession by WVU, a time when guard Gary Browne, already a mess with a black eye that came from an elbow in practice during the week, was trying to inbound the ball under his own basket.
He tried to arch a touch pass to the invisible man, or so it seemed, only to have Pierre Jackson, wearing the opponent’s jersey, snatch it away and go unopposed for a basket at the other end of the court.
“I don’t know what they ran when we threw them the ball the first time,” Huggins said. “I have no idea. I’ve never seen that out of bounds play. We’ve never lined up like that. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know what the hell they were doing.”
That’s one of those “good news, bad news” things.
The bad news, quite obviously, is that Huggins, as he said, “didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”
The good news was that at least Baylor had never seen it before and didn’t have it in its scouting report.
This is something a coach might expect early in the season, especially with a team whose guards are freshmen and sophomores, but this is not early in the season.
“It’s happened all year long,” Huggins said. “You can’t drill everything every day. As it is, we go three hours and everybody thinks I’m insane. We go three hours, but you can’t drill everything every day. At some point, you have to be a basketball player.”
That is the key to it all.
“At some point, you have to be a basketball player.”
A basketball player isn’t just someone running around with a number on his jersey wearing baggy shorts and $200 gym shoes. He isn’t just someone who can dunk or run fast or jump high.
He is someone who knows how to play the game, who doesn’t throw it away 18 times in the 24th game of the season.
Do it on the road at Gonzaga in the first game, as WVU did with 20 turnovers in that opener, fine. It happens, but it’s supposed to be part of the learning process.
Becoming a basketball player includes learning what to do and what not to do.
This year’s group seems to be slowly learning what to do but not what not to do, making many of the same mistakes that cost them so dearly earlier in the season when it was all getting away from them.
Now it’s true that in this game the officials made life difficult for WVU as its players committed what was deemed foul after foul, but the idea is to learn how the officials are calling the game and stay away from doing things they are sure to call on you.
Aaric Murray, who is maybe the most talented player on the team, managed somehow to get two fouls in 15 seconds, add a third moments after he was brought back in the game. He wound up with only 12 minutes of playing time.
It is hard to be a basketball player when you are on the bench for 28 minutes and on the floor for just 12.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.