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February 9, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Huggins: WVU will beat KU in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN — After Kansas pulled out a tough home victory over West Virginia to hand the Mountaineers their 10th loss of the season, there are those who may be thinking that WVU is now dead in terms of its NCAA chances.

Do not count Bob Huggins among that group.

While Huggins may be losing more games the last couple of years than he used to lose, he’s lost none of his brashness.

“I told the team, we’re going to win in Morgantown. We’re gonna win. We’re going to figure out how to win,” he said.

“I think it was Abe Lemons ... they thought they weren’t going to make the NCAA Tournament and on TV show Abe sat up in a coffin and said we ain’t dead yet. Well, we ain’t dead yet.”

In fact, there will be no dirges being sung after this 83-69 loss. In fact, if George and Ira Gershwin had been asked to write a song about West Virginia’s trip to historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas Saturday they probably would have put it lyrically this way, taking off on their famous “Foggy Day in London Town”:

—-

  A ‘Phoggy’ day in Morgantown

  KU won, put WVU down

  They’d viewed this game with alarm

  Even Bob Huggins had lost his charm

  How long, he wondered, could this win streak last

  But the age of miracles, it had passed

  For, all at once, scores weren’t there

  And through ‘Phoggy’ Morgantown

  The sun wasn’t shining anywhere

—-

Some losses are just tougher than others to take and this road defeat was one of them.

Why, you ask?

You say it was expected, Kansas is No. 8 in the country, No. 1 in RPI – or was it RIP for the unranked Mountaineers.

True.

Kansas has a roster filled with high school All-Americans, WVU with All-Staters. There’s a difference.

All you had to do was look at the bodies of the Jayhawks young players, of Andrew Wiggins, of Joel Embiid.

Their basketball world is as different as their flat terrain is from the mountains of West Virginia.

WVU rolled into the Phog with just nine scholarship players and with an unenviable streak of having lost its last 16 road games against ranked teams.

True, they’d won three straight lately and turned around what had started off as if it might be a second consecutive terrible season, but still this was Kansas, the floor Wilt Chamberlain played his college basketball on, a place that ranks with the likes of Pauley Pavilion and Cameron Indoor Arena as basketball cathedral’s go.

You don’t go in there and win no matter who you are.

As proof, consider that Kansas has won 111 straight home games against unrated opponents on its home floor.

So what was West Virginia doing being down 69-65 late in a second half in which two of their three top scoring options had become lost in the ‘Phog’?

Honest, neither Eron Harris nor Terry Henderson had made a second half field.

Henderson never even got off a shot in the second half and finished the game with 0-3 shooting and just two points while Harris, who went off on a quick 3-for-3 spurt of 3-point baskets early in the first half, one of them from downtown Kansas City and the Phog is located in Lawrence, failed to make another basket the rest of the day.

He, at least, found a way to complement Juwan Staten, who picked up 22 points, by sinking all eight of his free throws.

But there it was, down four, late in the game and in truth it was not a surprise to Huggins.

Before the game, he laid it out like he saw it.

“We’re playing well. They were extremely focused yesterday. We’ve got to stay out of foul trouble, obviously. If we can stay out of foul trouble I feel good about chances.”

Well, as it is in so many temples of college basketball, staying out of foul trouble as a visitor is not the easiest of things to do. Kansas’ plan, and it was the right plan, was to go inside hard early and test WVU’s soft underbelly and they had Devin Williams, Kevin Noreen and Brandon Watkins in foul trouble quickly.

“They called stuff today they haven’t called all year in the post,” Huggins said. “We did, we had our hands on them and technically it is a foul had hands on them, but they let things go on the perimeter but called everything inside. Devin plays one minute in the first half and he’s got two, Noreen had two or three fouls and Watkins two in the half.”

So WVU had nothing inside and two of their three top outside shooters weren’t able to get anything.

“They put Wiggins on Harris. His length bothered him. They know we can’t throw it inside so the big guys stand in the lane. Harris couldn’t drive it to get them off of him,” Huggins explained.

But all of that was at the Phog.

The next time these two teams meet up the players will be the same but this time instead hearing the “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” chant it will be “Country Roads”.

And, as you have heard, Huggins believes the outcome will be different.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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