By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
A month ago, just before West Virginia University was to play its first Big 12 road game at Texas, Bob Huggins heard from an old Cincinnati friend, Joe Roberts, who reminded him of a season in which his team got off to a rocky start but recovered with a little help from a janitor at the school.
Huggins had been trying to urge that Bearcat team on, much as he has spent the first few months of this basketball season trying to put this year’s Mountaineer team on the right path, telling them that they have to “find a way.”
This is how Huggins tells the story of what went on in Cincinnati:
“Well, we had a custodian that loved the team,” Huggins said. “He went into the wood shop and made a big sign that said ‘FIND A WAY’ and painted it all up and everything, and when everyone walked out they hit that sign.”
Of course, they found a way in Cincinnati, or Huggins wouldn’t have been telling the story, and they found a way to beat Texas on the road in overtime, a game that was anything but artistic but somehow when it becomes your first Big 12 victory, you don’t worry about the brush strokes, only the final score.
The Mountaineers had been down by 13 points in that game and could have been down by 30 as badly as they shot, actually missing their first 14 3-point shots and being in jeopardy of seeing their streak of 436 games end until Kevin Noreen hit one that was followed by Jabarie Hinds and then Eron Harris another to help put them in position to win.
Now, WVU plays Texas again, this time in a Big Monday ESPN extravaganza that starts at the Coliseum at 9 p.m., and WVU is hoping that it finally has found a way.
The victory over Texas was supposed to inspire WVU to bigger and better things, but it didn’t happen. The Mountaineers lost their next game to Kansas State by a point and then lost to Iowa State by two before just being blown out by Purdue.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, including putting themselves in position a Monday ago to upset No. 1/2 Kansas at home, only to let that game slip away.
However, the Mountaineers come into this Monday night game riding a lot of momentum built not only from that near upset of one of the nation’s top teams but from going on the road and shooting lights out at Texas Tech in a 77-61 blowout.
The Mountaineers had their best shooting game of the season by hitting 56.4 percent of their shots, and they weren’t just breaking free for dunks and layups. While they missed 14 consecutive 3s the first time against Texas, this time they hit 10 of 18 for the game, Terry Henderson, Gary Browne and Eron Harris, the high scorer with 18 points, each canning three.
If WVU is improving since the Texas game and hoping to propel itself on a winning streak that can get it back into NCAA contention, the Longhorns, too, are improving. They have won two of their last three, one of those against the same Texas Tech team WVU beat and they did so by a similar score, 73-57.
They even played Kansas tough along the way, losing to the Jayhawks by five points just as WVU did in a home game.
The Mountaineers are hopeful that they not only will be able to continue to hit some 3s and shoot well but that senior center Deniz Kilicli will continue to play at the top of his game as he finally did in the Texas Tech game.
The game against Texas has been dubbed a Military and First Responder Appreciation Night, meaning military members and first responders can purchase a $10 ticket at the Mountaineer Ticket Office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or at the Coliseum ticket windows beginning at 7:30 p.m. today. Tickets are still on sale for the game by visiting wvugame.com.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.