West Virginia’s basketball team has a split personality.
While authoring a 9-11 record that included any number of close losses such as Monday night’s 61-56 defeat at home to No. 2 Kansas, the Mountaineers have been a perplexing team that would play well in spurts but overall would be exasperating to its coach and its fans.
“I just never know what we are going to do. It seems like when we have made shots, we miss free throws. When the offense kind of ran, we didn’t guard,” Coach Bob Huggins said.
In truth, they lost the Kansas game in the first nine minutes as they fell behind 14-2 without so much as scoring a field goal for a student section that was so revved up that it offered them enough energy to pull off what would have been a monumental upset on national television.
“They scored the ball by layups, had easy transition baskets,” guard Gary Browne said. “We just didn’t come to play hard the first eight minutes. Then we came back. We just gave it away.”
It was during that spell, a time when no one did much of anything right, including Aaric Murray, who would recover to play what well may have been his finest game as a Mountaineer with 17 points and seven rebounds, that Kansas established enough of a mental and emotional feeling of confidence that it could withstand the run WVU put on in the second half.
And close the Mountaineers did, cutting the gap to two points but unable to slash the KU jugular.
Those early eight minutes, though, were horrid as WVU continually made silly mistakes, crosscourt passes from big men like Murray and Deniz Kilicli that Kansas would intercept and take the length of the court for layups.
“You can’t throw them the ball. We throw them the ball,” Huggins said. “That’s the way it is, they shoot 54 percent, we shoot 37. Why am I going to throw it inside so those guys can throw it to people for layups? Throw it out of bounds, kick it up in the stands ... do something and get back a guard.
“That’s the worst play in basketball, throwing the ball to the other guy for a layup ... and we’re good at it.”
Once WVU got itself settled in, once Murray and Huggins figured out how to co-exist, the comeback began and it was quite a rally for a team that easily just could have quit.
The Mountaineers rushed back into contention as Murray moved outside and began hitting 3s. WVU, in fact, finished the game with four 3-point shots made — all by their centers. Murray had three of them, Kevin Noreen one.
The guards were 0 for 7, another sign of just how bewitched and bewildered this team is.
In truth, Huggins’ game plan was to try and get some outside shooting from his big men because the outside shooting throughout the season has been so horrid that defenses are packing it tightly inside and letting the guards shoot their 3s.
“Coach wanted to stretch the defense because he knew they would pack it in,” Murray said. “He said if they stay back, shoot it in.”
That helped get the crowd into it even more and as the crowd roared, so did the Mountaineer comeback. They came out in the second half, even though down eight, believing they had a shot at winning the game.
“It was on our game plan to come out and attack them and not let them come out and get on us like they did in the first half,” Murray said. “(Coach Huggins) kept emphasizing if we stepped our defense up we could win the game.”
And with 10:18 left guard Juwan Staten hit a jumper that was called a 3-point shot and brought WVU to within a point ... until the officials took a long look at a replay and changed the call to a 2-point basket.
In truth, the officials played a big role in this game. That delay sucked some of the momentum from the WVU rally, acting almost as a time out for Kansas, and then there was the matter of fouls that were called and free throws that were shot.
“Did I think they would shoot 34 free throws and we shoot 15? No,” said Huggins, bluntly but without offering criticism of the way the game was called. “We have, up until about a week ago, made more free throws than our opponents have taken. We were No. 1 in the power six conferences.”
In truth, had Kansas made more than 18 of its 34 free throws, this would have been a runaway for the Jayhawks.
“If we make our free throws in the first half we probably could have scored 44 or 45 points,” Kansas coach Bill Self admitted, and the lead would have been 14 or 15 instead of eight at the half, the wind perhaps taken out of any WVU rally before it started.
Now, though, WVU has to regroup and try to salvage what is left of a year in which they are 2-5 in Big 12 play and 9-11, a year in which making the NIT might even be a battle.
Can this Kansas game help?
Murray believes it can.
“For me, it gives me something to say to the freshmen. I can tell them they played good against the No. 2 team in the country, so who do we have left? We can use that as motivation to let us know how good we are and where we stand,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
West Virginia’s basketball team has a split personality.
- WVU Sports
WVU loses close battle to Baylor, 74-71
West Virginia University’s dream of a Big 12 Tournament championship did not come true, but it wasn’t because they didn’t play like champions.
HERTZEL COLUMN- WVU’s fate lies in Big 12 record
West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team finds itself in really a strange situation, looking at its move from the Big East to the Big 12 as being the reason it will make the NCAA Tournament this year or the reason it will miss the NCAAs.
FURFARI COLUMN- WVU men’s performance most impressive in upset win
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team’s thrill-filled 92-86 upset of nationally No. 8-ranked Kansas here last Saturday has to be one of the school’s all-time greatest triumphs.
WVU women topple Texas, advance to Big 12 championship
Buckle your seatbelts. It’s time for West Virginia-Baylor III, and this time the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament championship is the prize.
HERTZEL COLUMN- Ejim’s season wasn’t better than Staten’s
You’ll pardon a little old-fashioned outrage this morning, I hope.
It doesn’t come as often from this old body as it used to.
Staten, Harris tabbed with Big 12 honors
West Virginia’s point guard Juwan Staten was named to the All-Big 12 team and selected as a member of the league’s All-Defensive team but lost out to Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim in the Player of the Year voting.
WVU riding Kansas win into Big 12 Tournament
All season long, whenever anyone would ask coach Bob Huggins what his West Virginia team had to do to win games — and believe it, that question came up before almost every game — Huggins always had the same answer.
Staten overlooked for Big 12 Player of the Year
West Virginia’s point guard Juwan Staten was overlooked by the Big 12 Coaches in the Player of the Year voting Sunday, the award going to Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim, but Staten was named to the All-Big 12 first team and the All-Defensive team.
Mountaineers stun No. 8 Kansas, 92-86
The missing link finally showed itself for West Virginia University on Saturday, maybe just in time to save the season for the Mountaineers.
“Better late than never,” is the way WVU guard Eron Harris put it after freshman center Devin Williams stepped out of the shadows and put together the game everyone has been waiting for in leading the Mountaineers to a crucial 92-86 victory over Kansas.
Fairmont native named next Mountaineer
The riffle has been passed.
Fairmont native Michael Garcia was named West Virginia University’s new Mountaineer Saturday.
The announcement came at the eight minute mark of the men’s basketball team’s eventual 92-86 upset win over No. 8 Kansas at the WVU Coliseum.
- More WVU Sports Headlines
- WVU loses close battle to Baylor, 74-71