By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It was the day before a basketball game and, as is his custom, West Virginia University coach Bob Huggins was holding a preview session, but uncharacteristically the questions weren’t flowing very freely from a gaggle of media sorts.
It wasn’t that Huggins wasn’t in a mood to answer any questions. If anything, Huggins is as straightforward and honest with that as any coach in the business.
It’s just that at this time of year with a team that is 13-14 and playing poorly, there just isn’t much to ask about, even with an 8 p.m. home game against a good Baylor team that has been struggling itself in recent games, losing three straight to fall to 16-11.
This, one might think, would offer hope to the Mountaineers, even though they did lose their first meeting at Baylor rather one-sidedly, 80-60.
But considering that WVU is going nowhere, there is some question about the team’s incentive and motivation.
“I think there have been times — I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you because it’s happened so much — that we have put our heads down and made it worse,” Huggins said. “We did it at Baylor. We threw it to them a couple of times, didn’t get it in bounds, and there’s no question we’re standing with our head down.
“They make a 3, then they come back and make another 3, and I’m sure that’s frustration, but I don’t think we’ve gone into a game that way.”
The problem is that while the Mountaineers have not gone into games defeated, when adversity has struck they haven’t been able to fight through it.
“We haven’t handled adversity well,” Huggins admitted. “We don’t have any veterans. Only Deniz. That has a lot to do with it.”
Certainly there has been a lack of veteran leadership to take them through the landmines they have been marching through, but it isn’t the only thing that has hurt them.
“It’s been hard for us to come back when we get behind,” guard Jabarie Hinds admitted. “I really don’t know the reason. I’d like to know it. I’ve been thinking about it, and we’re 28 games into the season.”
The biggest reason is that the team just has no offensive firepower, and you can’t overcome a deficit if you can’t put points the board.
WVU has scored 70 points in a game once since Jan. 23, which is more than a month ago. It has had one player score 20 points in a game once since Jan. 16 and has had a 20-point scorer in only six games all season.
What’s more, it has scored more than 65 points only five times all year, and you just aren’t going to be able to beat teams when you can’t put points on the board, especially teams like Baylor that has a powerful offense with perhaps the league’s top player in Pierre Jackson.
Jackson, who recently became a 1,000-point scorer, leads the conference in scoring and assists. In truth, he stands alone as a scorer in the league, averaging 19.2 points a game, while no one else in the league is averaging as many as 16.0 points a game.
He averages 6.42 assists per game, while no other player averages as many as 6.0 assists.
“It does not take long to notice he is special. He has another gear that a lot of college players don’t have … maybe even NBA players,” his coach, Scott Drew, said.
Still, Baylor is having its problem winning games and appears to be on the NCAA bubble, something Drew has to deal with because his players know the situation.
“It’s hard to shield yourself unless you want to be shielded today. Athletes today deal with more pressure than the past because of the publicity and the Internet,” he said. “You go through so many extremes in a 24-hour period.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.