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January 6, 2011

Huggins still looking for answers

MORGANTOWN — The coach was upset. You didn’t need to see it as he sat behind the microphone on his radio show at the Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago. The words and the emotion in his voice gave you all the visual you needed.

“If anyone wants to learn how to lose a game, just watch that,” he said, disappointment dripping with each word.

He should be upset, you’re thinking. Oliver Purnell of DePaul had a chance for his first Big East victory, a chance to end a 15-game Big East regular-season losing streak, and it slipped away. Why shouldn’t he complain, right?

Well, the problem is, that wasn’t Oliver Purnell speaking.

That was your very own Bob Huggins, whose team had just avoided becoming the first West Virginia University team under Huggins to lose three in a row, surviving a late rally by the Blue Demons to score its first Big East victory of the season.

There was no victory celebration to go with this one.

Huggins, you see, doesn’t judge his team on one game, one moment, any more than he judges a player on one play.

Yes, his is a quest for victory, but far more than that, it is a quest for perfection. His vision goes far beyond the locker room door, for he knows that DePaul is DePaul and that down the road wait as many as eight ranked Big East teams, teams that will take advantage of everything his team does wrong.

And right now his team is doing everything wrong.

“You know, if you are up 14 all you have to do is spread ’em and back-cut ’em, because they have to come get the ball,” he said, referring to the 14-point lead his team held midway through the second half.

“We decide within the first 10 seconds of the shot club we’re going to drive and we’re going to drive until we hit somebody or we end up taking a shot that doesn’t hit the rim. It’s mind-boggling to me we can do the things that we do.”

And he doesn’t want to hear excuses, hear about who left last year. That’s not it.

“It’s one thing, you say, you’re playing some young guys. No I’m not. I’m playing a three-year starter at point (Truck Bryant) and a four-year point guard (Joe Mazzulla). Those are the two guys who were in the game. We had a guy who asked out. He’s tired. What’s he do? He runs to the corner and shoots a 3 that doesn’t hit the rim.

“We have a handoff in the corner and lose the ball. I don’t know ... (sigh) we have to go back and look at tape. You know, we can’t guard a soul. We can’t guard a soul. We’re in a 2-3 zone and they shoot two layups against it, which I’ve never seen before. I’ve never seen two consecutive layups scored against a 2-3 zone.”

By this time, the show’s host, Tony Caridi, doesn’t quite know where to go. He’s used to hearing about the majestic Mountaineers and the importance of thrilling two-point victories on the road, about how cherished each Big East win is.

He decides to change the subject to something positive, to bring up the play of sophomore Deniz Kilicli.

“The big guy, Kilicli, comes through again,” Caridi says to Huggins. “Scored 14 points with seven of eight from the field. Are you starting to see that light shine a little?”

Caridi’s expecting to hear Huggins’ tune change and offer a song of praise for Kilicli.

Wrong!

“Well, it would shine a lot brighter if he could get a rebound,” Huggins snaps. “You know, here’s a guy who is 6-9, 275 ... it would be nice if he could get a rebound.”

There’s a touch of silence, then Huggins seems to be taking Caridi’s bait.

“He has scored the ball; he’s done a better job of getting in position,” he says.

You can almost sense a relieved look come over Caridi’s face ... but not for long.

“We do an absolutely horrible job of throwing him the ball. Absolutely horrible,” Huggins says, then adds, “He’s got to rebound the ball. You can’t have a 6-9 guy out there who doesn’t rebound.”

And so it goes.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that we can do the things we do,” Huggins says.

Caridi can’t wait to turn this show over to Kyle Wiggs and Jay Jacobs. He needs an Alka-Seltzer, fast.

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

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