By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
All in all, when West Virginia opened its men’s basketball season with a 77-62 victory over Mount St. Mary’s, it was a solid performance from a Mountaineer team that was very much a mystery.
But if there were two areas that Coach Bob Huggins believed needed improvement, they were the two areas that have come to signify what Bob Huggins’ teams are all about — defense and rebounding.
So it really wasn’t much of a surprise when he was asked where his team needed the most work going into today’s 1 p.m. game at Virginia Tech that will be shown as part of ESPN’s season-opening basketball marathon, those two areas were cited.
Indeed, rebounding and defense are to Bob Huggins like home runs were to Babe Ruth and spinach was to Popeye the Sailor.
“We have to defend a whole heck of a lot better than what we defended, and we have to rebound a lot better than what we rebounded the ball,” he said. “Those are two things that over the years we’ve done probably better than most, and we’re not doing it as well as virtually anybody right now.
“We’re fortunate we made some shots, but we all know there are going to be some games when those shots don’t go down, so we’re going to have to stop people. What’s really disappointing is we let Mount St. Mary’s get
so many second shots and second opportunities because we didn’t rebound the ball.”
The problem with this is that Huggins is fielding a young team, and when you are doing that at the college level, the young players normally were offensive stars in high school and weren’t asked to play defense and could rebound off their superior quickness and leaping ability rather than off hard work and skill, which decides who yanks down the college rebounds.
It is something that takes a while to develop ... far longer than it does to get players to do things correctly on offense.
Huggins, of course, is not a very patient man, so there will be a number of defensive moments as the season goes on, but Huggins is looking to do better rebounding than the team did in the opener when outrebounded by the Mount, 30-28.
“We recruited Devin expecting what he did against Fairmont,” Huggins said of 6-9 freshman center Devin Williams.
Williams pulled down 14 rebounds against Fairmont State in the exhibition game, but when the statistics started counting he picked off only one against Mount St. Mary’s, a disappointing performance.
And Nathan Adrian managed just three rebounds in 25 minutes of play, which isn’t enough to please Huggins.
“Nat has good hands. He ought to rebound better,” Huggins challenged. “We are going to have to team rebound. We don’t have one guy who will get us 12 or 13, but we have been in that situation a lot of times.
“We got beat to too many balls in the first game. Our balance and our base were not very good, and too many balls were bouncing off our hands.”
WVU is hoping to get Terry Henderson back playing. Expected to start and be one of the top scoring threats on the team, Henderson missed the first game with a shin injury and his availability for Virginia Tech is uncertain.
“He practiced 10 minutes today. That’s not enough to know,” Huggins said Monday.
Eron Harris, however, felt after Friday night’s opener that Henderson would be well enough to face the Hokies.
“I’m looking forward to a good environment, a competitive game. I think Terry is going to play with us (today). I’m looking forward to playing with my sophomore teammate because I want to see how good we can be,” Harris said. “That’s another shooting threat. With the way we have been shooting already, adding another threat will be big ... and he can drive, too.”
Again the offense will revolve around point guard Juwan Staten, who not only ran the show with six assists and no turnovers, but who scored 22 points in the opener.
Virginia Tech lost its opening game at home, 64-63, to South Carolina-Upstate, with Jarell Eddie leading the way with 18 points.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.