By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The situation is so similar that Bob Huggins could not avoid bringing it up.
See, his West Virginia University basketball team is being written off as a contender in the Big 12 Tournament in which the Mountaineers play their first game against Texas Tech at 7 p.m. today in Kansas City. A loss figures to end their season, and certainly even if they don’t lose to the Red Raiders the big bad boys from Kansas await them, and it is a fact that during the regular season they never beat a team in the top six in the league.
In truth, the baggage Huggins and his West Virginia basketball team carry into the Big 12 Tournament is baggage he’s never before carried in 31 years of collegiate coaching, that being a six-game losing streak, to say nothing of 18 losses.
But that does not make him think that he is facing an impossible task.
It goes back to an article that his mother-in-law had been on his chair for him to read, an article about the 1965 team which included Buddy Quertinmont.
“He was like a brother to me when I played here, and we have been friends for a long, long time,” explained Huggins, who came along a decade later.
The article noted that in Quertinmont’s senior season — a very good year for him by the way as he averaged 14.5 points a game — the Mountaineers had gone into an awful tailspin at the end of the season, very similar to what Huggins’ team went through this year.
They lost 11 of their last 14 games, including six in a row until the season finale when they faced Virginia Tech.
Well, they came out and beat the Hokies — get this — 127-73. Quertinmont certainly would remember that game for he had 24 points while hitting 9 of 11 shots from the field.
That game turned things around for the Mountaineers, gave them some momentum for their Southern Conference Tournament.
The Mountaineers came out and won the opening game of the tournament, then beat Davidson, which was ranked sixth in the country, by two points, and then beat William & Mary to win the tournament and qualify for the NCAA’s.
True, they lost to Providence in the first round, but there was no shame there for the Friars were ranked No. 4 in the nation, but there is a point to the tale, one that might just make some sense when you realize that WVU is now riding the momentum of a strong comeback in the second half against Iowa State in the regular season’s final game.
True, they lost rather than winning by 127-73, but it gave the Mountaineers a reason to believe in themselves.
“The message was, it’s never too late,” Huggins said. “I tried to explain that to the team. It’s never too late as long as you have a conference championship. As long as you’re still standing, you might as well fight.”
And make no doubt, the message got across.
“This comeback gave me so much hope,” senior center Deniz Kilicli said after the Iowa State loss in which WVU scored 54 second-half points. “I think next week we can make a run. It’s 0-0 now. You never know. If we can put all the BS behind, you never know.”
“We still have a chance, and I believe we can do it,” freshman Eron Harris, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer, added.
Even Monday, when Huggins spoke on the Big 12 coaches’ conference call, he was still talking about having a chance despite the dismal regular season.
“I think we’re capable of playing with anyone on any given night,” he said.
In Texas Tech they face an opponent they have already beaten once, by two points at home and a team that has had a troubled season, beginning with the resignation by coach Billy Gillespie in the wake of accusation of mistreatment of players following a season in which the Red Raiders won only one Big 12 game.
Chris Walker took over and did what he could do, but it was a long, hard year that resulted in a 3-15 conference record.
“I took over obviously a challenging situation, and I embraced it. I’m thankful to have a chance to be a head coach in the Big 12. But obviously I took over in a situation that was not a delightful one, other than being the head coach of Texas Tech.
“I will say this. I learned a lot about myself. I told team, when you look in mirror and either are selfless of selfish, this has been the most selfless year of my life in giving to my players,” Walker said.
“You can never say you are prepared for what I took over, but I’m sure because it took me so long to become a head coach and because of my years of experience and the guys I worked for, it put me in a great position to handle these challenges.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.