By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Juwan Staten wasn’t in a mood to mince words in the moments after Baylor dismantled West Virginia University, 88-75, on Saturday at the Coliseum, virtually destroying any realistic hopes the Mountaineers had at making March Madness.
“The defensive end is what killed us,” Staten said, quite bluntly.
There would be no argument forthcoming. Baylor did whatever it wanted to do down low with the Mountaineers, just as Texas had done before them and Kansas had done before them and Oklahoma before them and … oh, what the hell, there’s certainly a trend there.
See, WVU can’t play the game within 8 feet of the basket. They are too small, too inexperienced and, if you listen to Bob Huggins, and one suggests that his players begin doing that right now, they are not committed enough to either defend there or score there.
It is a driving him crazy, and it became terribly evident in the Baylor game.
The Bears were swatting away everything the Mountaineers threw at the basket from down low, so much so that Isaiah Austin alone had seven blocks, the team 10, while West Virginia was blocking only two shots.
In fact, WVU scored just six baskets all game in the paint. Six!
Meantime Baylor was making 19 baskets in the paint … and it seemed like a whole lot more.
Why did this happen?
Well, one could use Terry Henderson being out with the flu as an excuse, considering that left the Mountaineers terribly shorthanded.
Filling in for Henderson were Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian, and, to put it bluntly, neither did a thing on defense inside.
“Terry gives us a little more aggression on the defensive end and can rebound better and can even block some shots,” Staten said. “We kind of missed him tonight but we’re not going to say that’s the reason we lost.”
There was an even more glaring absence than Henderson the way the game went, and that was Brandon Watkins, who is most certainly WVU’s best rim protector.
Huggins inserted the 6-9 freshman at the 9:59 mark of the first half and promptly yanked him at the 9:11 mark, just 48 seconds and one dunk from his man later.
Watkins was never to return, and when the mystery of his absence was brought up in the post-game media inquisition of Huggins, it was a mystery no more.
“I am not going to continually tell guys during four days of practice what someone is going to do, and then have them trot their happy you-know-what out there and let him do it.” Huggins responded, using neither Watkins’ name nor the name of the anatomical part of the body he was referring to.
“I’m just tired of it. Unfortunately, we only had eight guys today. If we had five more I’d have played all of them. Enough. We always talk about we want to be this and we want to be that and we’re going to do this and we’re going do that, but we aren’t going to do anything until we are committed.”
Commitment, it turned out, was the theme of this defeat, and Huggins was on a roll.
“I told them I had Corey Blount (at Cincinnati) play 13 years in the NBA. We went to play Arizona, and I told him the guy he was playing will turn over his left shoulder and, first play of the game, he turns over his left shoulder and I didn’t play Corey the rest of the day,” Huggins said.
“I heard Terry Nelson (another Cincinnati player) say one time ‘I don’t need to watch film.’ I put him in and said you’ve got Allen Houston. First play Allan Houston (who averaged 21.9 points during a four-year career at Tennessee) hit a 3. (Nelson) didn’t play for three games. He went from thinking we don’t need to watch film to being maybe the best film watcher I’ve ever had.”
In other words, taking away playing time helps build commitment.
This was particularly hard for Huggins to accept as his team was coming off a week to ready itself for Baylor.
“We had a week between games,” Huggins said. “I talked to them about our commitment to excellence. I said this last week, and I don’t want people to take it the wrong way, but we’re never going to have the five most-talented players in the country here. Most people will never have that. That doesn’t mean we can’t have the five guys that play the best. That takes commitment on their part.
“We know a guy is going to drive right because he hasn’t driven left all year. We let him drive right. That’s not a commitment,” Huggins continued. “When you know a guy has to turn over his left shoulder and that’s the first thing he does and you continue to let him do that, that’s not commitment. When you’re walking after a timeout to get to the place we need to get to run a set, that’s not a commitment.
“We had a week, and they all have iPads with all the breakdowns. They have breakdowns on the team and the people they will guard. I’m not sure what they did – maybe played Spider — on those iPads, but they sure as hell didn’t watch the tape.”
One suspects they won’t want to be watching the tape of this Baylor game, either.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.