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January 17, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU still lacking physicality from players on court

MORGANTOWN — There was a quiet that was deafening hanging heavily over the room within the club area of the Coliseum being used for player interviews following West Virginia University’s loss to Texas Monday night.

Conversations were being held at a level above whispers but far below normal volume.

Such were the Mountaineers’ spirits having thrown out such a clunker coming off such a courageous and narrow loss to Oklahoma State just two days earlier.

Players were carrying the weight of a 10-7 record and two-game losing streak with a trip to Kansas State on Saturday ahead of them on their backs, angry that shots had not dropped for them and more angry that Texas had been too physical for them, banging the backboards relentlessly.

“We need to get more physical,” point guard Juwan Staten said after he had put forth yet another gem of an effort, albeit in a losing game. “There were a couple of times they hit us early, and we stopped going. We need to hit them first, make them feel that first blow. We need to pursue the ball. I don’t think we pursued the ball like we needed to.”

It is difficult to make this point, but not as difficult as it is for Bob Huggins to read it.

If his coaching trademark is anything, it is of putting physical teams on the court, yet this team possesses a number of good traits but physicality is not one of them.

This, of course, is partially what Huggins asked for.

A year ago the big complaint against his team was that it was more physical than athletic and that it didn’t fit the mold needed to contend in the Big 12.

Huggins promised to make the necessary adjustments in his personnel, ran off some players and brought in others and had the makings of the kind of team he wanted, one that blended speed and athleticism with a certain physicality.

But when Elijah Macon and Jonathan Holton failed to qualify to play, he lost much of the physical presence he had hoped to put on the court.

Suddenly he had himself a team without an inside presence, with no force on the boards and no inside scorer.

Basketball being what it is, a game where the goal sits above everyone’s head putting a premium on height and demanding possession of the basketball through rebounds to score, his team found itself among the disadvantaged.

Texas offered a rather sizeable and physical team, led by Cameron Ridley, who performed Godzilla-like acts inside against West Virginia, and was able to dominate throughout.

The situation WVU finds itself in and the manner in which Texas manhandled the team could certainly leave them dispirited and desperate, but the one promise they made was to push on and try to turn things around.

The spokesperson for such an attitude was no less that shooting guard Eron Harris, whose own shooting slump has contributed heavily to the situation WVU finds itself in.

“I’m wondering what the answer is,” Harris said. “What’s the answer for me individually? What’s the answer for us? How can I get myself going? I’m tired of losing; there are a lot of things inside of me right now.

“But we’re not going to give up. We’ve got a long way to go,” Harris continued. “If somebody believes this is the end of the world right now, they’re wrong. We’re not going to lie down and quit. We’re going to keep going. We’re a team. We’ll keep going. That’s all I can say.”

In truth that’s all there is left to say.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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