By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins was not going to be the Grinch who stole Christmas, and so it was he gave his team three days off for the Christmas break.
Now, though, he has them down to business getting ready for Sunday’s 3 p.m. game in Charleston against William & Mary, the final nonconference game of the season. And, it seems, Huggins is ready to push his team as it hasn’t yet been pushed.
“Maybe it’s time to take the kid gloves and you start treating them like veterans because they have played 12 games. They’ve all played and they’ve all played minutes,” he said.
Not necessarily great minutes, but this young team that had to rely on freshmen far more than it should have is past the stage of using that as an excuse for what now is a 7-5 season with three losses in the past four games, most of them close losses that could have been victories.
And that is rubbing Huggins the wrong way.
“Obviously we haven’t made the plays we need to make to win games,” Huggins said. “I could point to 10 things if we did them a little bit better we would win the game. We give up too many layups. We give up too many straight-line drives. It isn’t that we haven’t worked on it.
“We don’t rebound the ball,” he continued. “We don’t rebound the way we need to rebound the ball. We don’t finish around the rim or the goal. It’s hard when you don’t finish around the goal. We had numerous tip-ins and numerous shots around the goal we don’t make ... and we haven’t made them all year.
“That’s got to change. If the people that we’re playing can’t do it, then we’ve got to get someone else to do it.”
And that, he notes, means that freshman Brandon Watkins is going to be a more intricate part of the mix.
Watkins came off the bench against Marshall and was named the game’s most valuable player when the freshman put together a double-double, then he came off against Purdue to grab a team-leading eight rebounds while causing havoc defensively near the basket, and defense is what Huggins is looking most for now.
“We can’t continue to rely on shooting jump shots because, as we saw the other day, we’re not going to make them all the time. We wound up being 3 for 18 the other day,” he said.
“People say we lost because we were 3 for 18, but we lost because we gave up so many layups. If we had made them shoot jump shots instead of shooting layups, we probably would have won the game.
“We don’t guard. We have to start to guard and we have to start to rebound.”
That is where the emphasis now is, fixing the things that have killed the Mountaineers every time they have faced a quality team.
“There’s just so many little things that kill us. When you have guys who have been around, they do the little things these guys haven’t done. It’s not that they don’t want to do them,” Huggins said. “Playing hard and playing through things is a learned skill. I don’t think you are born playing hard. I think it’s a learned skill like anything else is.
“Competing is something you learn. I had a lot of guys who didn’t compete when I got them who ended up being great competitors when they left.”
That should tell you that Huggins will be pushing hard to get this team ready to compete by the time Big 12 competition opens with road games at TCU and at Texas Tech on Jan. 4 and 6.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.