The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

February 25, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins pulls out tricks, but it’s not enough

MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins shed his traditional pullover for a black suit Thursday night.

Fitting … for a funeral.

He was hoping to wear it while posing for a victory picture, but, in the end, it turned out to be the perfect attire to wear while watching Pitt bury his Mountaineers for the second time this year, 71-58.

The shame of it is that Huggins called upon all the knowledge that 29 years as a head coach have bestowed upon him. As he has all season, he coached an incredible game.

He just doesn’t have the players to make it work.

The truth is he’s probably had a better year coaching this year than he did last year when his Mountaineers went to the Final Four, for there’s no one out there who can play offense like Da’Sean Butler or defense like Devin Ebanks.

He has a team that is devoid of stars, a team that will have no All-Big East players.

If you could take a pool of WVU and Pitt players and hold a draft, how many WVU players would you select? Casey Mitchell, because he score, maybe. John Flowers as a shot blocker? Joe Mazzulla because he’s Joe Mazzulla and just plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played?

Maybe those three, maybe Kevin Jones, although after last night you kind of wonder if you would pick him or Flowers, who did not record a point in this game while Jones missed so many from up close and far away that Huggins just had to get him out of there.

Huggins doesn’t have anyone that can scored 52 points in a game like Providence has in Marshon Brooks, yet he needs one more victory this season to assure a .500 season in the toughest conference this side of the NBA.

He has beaten two Top 10 teams, which is a tribute to his ability to coach a game and sell a team on its ability to win. The fact that he has lost twice to Pitt can be discounted because the team that was on the floor against West Virginia last night was playing a whole lot like a Final Four team itself.

Huggins kept pulling tricks out of that jacket sleeve of his, time after time through the early going, catching Pitt off guard.

He had his team fall into a 1-2-2 zone, which is as unorthodox as Jeff Casteel’s 3-3-5 defense on the football field.

It slowed down Pitt whenever he pulled it out, but it could not stop them because his team couldn’t do the most basic thing there is in basketball – shoot.

One player reached double figures, Casey Mitchell, who had 22. Some of them came when Huggins posted him up for one of the few times this year.

His explanation of why he did so was classic Huggins.

“Just trying to score, man,” he said. “Just trying to figure out a way to score.”

Joe Mazzulla expanded on the explanation.

“We were trying to take advantage of their smaller guards,” Mazzulla would explain. “They are their best offensive players and play a little soft on defense so they don’t get in foul trouble.”

It’s hard to put points on the board when Flowers doesn’t score a point and when Kevin Jones clangs all night long, hitting four of 13 shots.

“A lot of it was nerves and rushing shots,” Jones said. “They played a lot of good help on me, but I had quality shots. I didn’t knock them down.”

Somehow, Huggins had the Mountaineers a point ahead as they went to halftime, which with some teams is a good thing.

For most of the season the second half has been disastrous for the Mountaineers. In 11 of 15 Big East games they have been outscored in the second half and in 17 consecutive games their opponent has scored more second-half points than it did in the first half.

In this game the Mountaineers made only six baskets in the second half, shooting a pitiful 26.1 percent from the field.

At the same time, Pitt shot – sit down for this one – 65.2 percent in the second half.

“We just can’t haven’t been able to put two halves together,” Mazzulla said.

So now what?

“We got to get ready for Rutgers Sunday,” Mazzulla said. “It’s the biggest game of the year.”

Who woulda thunk it?

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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