The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 28, 2010

Strange Saturday

WVU wins with odd lineups, starter on bench

CHARLESTON — There are those who would have believed that West Virginia University, a Final Four team a year ago, could beat Virginia Military Institute with one hand tied behind its back.

But four hands?

Well, that’s exactly how it was as coach Bob Huggins, sick of players who refuse to practice right and listen, took starting point guard Truck Bryant and backup center Danny Jennings to the woodshed Saturday, left them sitting down at the end of the bench in street clothes and turned the game over to the players he felt wanted to play.

The result was a first half in which Huggins had some strange combinations on the floor, including walk-on Kenny Ross playing the point after Joe Mazzulla got in early foul trouble, and walk-on Craig Carey, son of women’s coach Mike Carey, on the floor during an 82-66 victory at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.

Huggins would not call what he did with Bryant and Jennings a suspension. It was more like a lesson and one that he promises will be repeated if they or any of their teammates don’t get the message.

“I’m going to coach guys that want to learn,” Huggins said as he began explaining the situation, without ever revealing exactly what his problem was with Bryant and Jennings. “We’re not making the progress we need to make because we don’t go hard all the time. We have guys who want to take practice off and don’t want to listen. I’m going to play the guys and coach the guys who want to get better.”

This is more important to Huggins than you might think and in ways you may not think of. It’s not just a basketball thing, a drive for perfection from his team or a selfish obsession with reaching a national championship.

It has to do with West Virginia, the state where he was born, the school where he played and the people who are fans of his team.

“It’s important to me coming back here and understanding the people in this state and what we represent. Honestly, I probably played on some teams that didn’t represent it in the fashion we should have.

“We’re not going to do that on my watch.”

Huggins played under Joedy Gardner in the middle 1970s on teams that went 14-13, 15-13 and 18-11.

And so, when he saw that Bryant and Jennings weren’t practicing the way he demands, he didn’t suspend them but placed them in a state of suspended animation.

“If a guy doesn’t come in and try to get better every day, there’s no sense in them playing,” Huggins said.

He then looked at some of the players who played in this fourth victory out of five starts this year from the Mountaineers — starting guard Casey Mitchell, who led all scorers with 25 points, and reserve Kevin Noreen, a player who seldom plays but who saw 14 minutes of action, scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds and had three assists and only one turnover.

“Casey Mitchell has been great. He has been very coachable. He has listened,” Huggins said. “He didn’t shoot the ball very well today because he rebounded the ball and curled, did all the things he didn’t do a year ago or didn’t know to do a year ago.

“He has made himself a player because he listened and tried to do the right things.”

One way to look at this is that Mitchell not only scored those 25 points, but he had seven rebounds and four assists.

“Coach said I have to get in and rebound so I tried to be more aggressive,” Mitchell said.”

Then there was Noreen. With Deniz Kilicli struggling, scoring four points and playing only 10 minutes, Noreen came in and rescued the Mountaineers.

“Kevin Noreen was all but buried on the bench. He comes in and does what you ask him to do,” Huggins said. “I think we all agree, where would we be without Casey Mitchell and Kevin Noreen? Those are two guys who just want to do things right. They’re not into doing their own thing.”

How does Noreen, a freshman, manage to fit in like that?

“Coach says be coachable. I listen,” he said. “I made mistakes, but it’s all right as long as I’m trying hard.”

Now WVU was never really in doubt of losing this one against a team that likes to run up and down the floor and shoot 3s. In fact, VMI made nine of them, but that doesn’t sound so good when you realize they took 34 while WVU was pounding inside, getting 48 points in the paint, Kevin Jones leading the way there with 22.

At one point VMI cut the WVU lead to within four at 64-60, but Joe Mazzulla took over there, hitting a layup then grabbing off a pair of rebounds, both of which resulted in layups for Jones on passes from Mitchell to get it out to 10, and WVU coasted from there.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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