By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There were a couple of moments in the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Saturday when you just wanted time to stand still. The first occurred early in the second half, right after Truck Bryant had been fouled with West Virginia trailing Marquette, 45-42.
You could not have planned that one, having a break just as the clock turned to 11:11 on 1/1/11.
The second moment came late in the game, a game in which the Mountaineers had battled and battled from an early 9-0 deficit they had dug themselves into so that they trailed by a scant point at 75-74, the ball in their possession, a play having been called by Coach Bob Huggins.
This, Huggins would explain after the game, was a “screen-the-screener” play, a play they had run successfully in the closing seconds of last year’s game in Morgantown, setting Da’Sean Butler free for a game-winning basket.
Right there, as the ball left Casey Mitchell’s hands on a pass intended for Truck Bryant, who supposed to be set free by a screen to shoot just as Butler had been, if ever time could have time could have stood still, that was the moment.
It was obvious as the pass was made that the screen had not been set, that Jae Crowder had read the play and would make a steal. If Huggins had possessed a “Pause” button he would have pressed it right there, then hit rewind for he knew — and would admit — that he had made a mistake.
“At the end it was my fault,” he would say on his post-game radio show. “I tried to have them do something we really haven’t worked on and we just didn’t do it. I should have known better than to use something we hadn’t worked on. We have a hard enough time making things work that we have worked on.”
Crowder intercepted the pass, broke loose as Mitchell yanked at his shirt, trying to avoid the breakaway, getting called for an intentional foul.
All the sweat, all the battling from behind that actually even resulted in a brief lead for the Mountaineers, was rendered null and void.
Crowder would make a free throw and then, with possession of the ball, Jimmy Butler would be fouled and make another and WVU could do nothing about it. They could only hope for a New Year’s Day miracle that would not come as they sucked up their second Big East defeat in as many games.
True, they played harder, they played with more enthusiasm than they did in losing at home to St. John’s in the conference opener, something Huggins took as a good sign.
“Today, unlike before, there was emotion in the locker room,” Huggins related. “Hopefully, we’re starting to come together as a unit.”
But, as Huggins would say over and over, “We got to get better. We could talk about all the ifs, the ands and the buts, but the reality is we got to get better.”
Much is lacking, although there were some forward steps taken in this one. To begin with, Deniz Kilicli shook off as dismal a start as any player has ever had, turning
the ball over three times in less than two minutes as Marquette jumped in front 9-0, to turn in a pretty solid ball game.
“With Deniz, hopefully the light bulb has come on. I don’t know why he got into catching the ball and handling it. I told him at half time, you don’t just catch it and score I’m taking you out. You can’t just keep turning it over,” Huggins said. “He can score the ball. He has a great touch around the rim.”
And Huggins discovered that his team looks better with both Truck Bryant, who scored a career high 24 points, and Joe Mazzulla on the floor together.
“I thought playing Joe and Truck together was good. Now we’re like everyone else, we actually have two guys who can dribble. It makes the job a little easier,” Huggins said.
But when he does that he either has to bench Casey Mitchell or play three guards. Mitchell gives him some offense, but there is one rather gaping hole in his repertoire.
“He can make shots, but he also has a lot of work to do at the other end of the floor,” Huggins said.
So, apparently, do a lot of people for Marquette shot an unbelievable 64 percent from the field in the second half, giving the Golden Warriors 52.6 percent for the game. That is after St. John’s shot 76.5 percent in the second half in the conference opener.
Joe Crowder of Marquette took it upon himself to see WVU could not win this one, hitting 12 of 14 field goals while scoring a career high 29 points.
“We gave Crowder a career. He’ll never go 12 for 14 again,” Huggins said.
Huggins will go about trying to patch it back together in a day for the Mountaineers head out Monday for Chicago and a game against DePaul, followed by a third straight road stop against Georgetown.
It would seem that Huggins what needs is time and, as he learned on Saturday, he can’t make time stand still.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.