By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
There hadn’t been anything like it in these parts since the night a fellow you might remember by the name of Da’Sean Butler went off for 43 points against Villanova, a staggeringly efficient 35-point outburst by Juwan Staten that left Kansas State in West Virginia University’s dust, 81-71.
But the truth be known, what Staten pulled off on Saturday came out of the same DNA of the performances Butler made common occurrences on the road to the Final Four.
It came from hard work and creativity and a bond between a coach bound for the Hall of Fame in Bob Huggins and player that Huggins could respect enough to turn loose.
Slowly, over the last couple of years, this offense has evolved into Staten’s. In truth, as the year began, it seemed to be molded to allow Staten to be the setup man for Eron Harris, but with each passing – and shooting – game, Staten took a little bit of a firmer grip.
And that was fine with Huggins.
“He wants to win. That’s the bottom line,” Huggins said.
And, with this team, the best chance to win is to have the ball in Staten’s hands and allow him to create.
“I just wanted to win,” Staten said after Kansas State. “I saw opportunities and took advantage of them. I never get tired creating,”
He proves it over and over, playing 38, 39, 40 or more minutes, leading the Big 12 in minutes played.
“Coach is giving me a lot of freedom. I know Huggs at a different level. We understand each other. I do all he asks me to do,” Staten explained.
And what he did in this game is something you may see again.
“He could do this any time he wants,” Terry Henderson said. “His role is to make this happen. A lot is on his shoulders, and he has done a great job.”
For the Kansas State game, Huggins got creative. He had some ideas that he felt were necessary to beat the Wildcats.
“We changed some things that we thought would help with Juwan. Honestly, we got what we wanted. We thought we could get to the free-throw line, and that happened,” he said.
Yeah, they got to the free throw line, a season-high 37 times, making 29 of them.
How important was that?
Kansas State made eight free throws out of 19 attempts …. Missing 11 in in a 10-point defeat.
Huggins went about devising a plan to counteract the gang guarding that K-State does. It had really driven WVU crazy in the first meeting, so he came up with something different this time around.
He put the ball in Staten’s hands and kept it there while everything spread out.
That left all the decision making on Staten, whether to take his man one-on-one, which he could do any time he wanted, or to pass the ball to a cutting Henderson or Harris.
“I’ve said it a thousand times,” Huggins said. “The kid cares and he works. He spends time and studies film. I’m really
proud of the fact that he hasn’t backed off. He’s kind of turned into one of the other guys who have turned into other great players that we’ve had.
“I tell them to step out of practice to save their legs, and the next time I turn around they’re back in there. That’s the way they all are. He’s in early and stays late. He’s the kind of guy who you hope has success because he’s earned it.”
And Huggins has had some big-time guards like Nick Van Exel, Steve Logan and Kenny Satterfield.
Van Exel had the kind of quickness Staten has and, of course, went on to become an all-NBA player. Staten has skills that Logan and Satterfield didn’t duplicate.
Put him with Harris and Henderson and give them the rest of this year to learn each other even better and a year from now they might prove to be dominant in the Big 12.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.