The Times West Virginian

March 2, 2013

WVU gets second crack at Kansas

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Three consecutive losses isn’t exactly the kind of baggage Bob Huggins wants to carry into Kansas to face the best team in the Big 12 on its home court, but even under the circumstances he is heading there for a 2 p.m. game today in something of a positive mood.

That is not to be taken that he thinks his West Virginia University Mountaineers ought to be favored over the Jayhawks, but he did take some positive things out of Wednesday night’s three-point loss to Baylor in the Coliseum.

“We had an opportunity to win,” Huggins pointed out.

That may be grasping for straws, considering that Baylor had come into Morgantown with a three-game losing streak of its own, but taking this one down to the final seconds and getting hard play out of his team was what Huggins considers a major step forward.

“We miss a 3- or 4-footer, miss a tip,” Huggins said of the sequence in the final minute. We rebound that, then miss a wide-open 3 from one of our better 3-point shooters.”

That showed effort, effort which led to opportunity.

Shots will go in or not, but that they were able to get the shots was important.

And then, at the end, while they botched up the final play, they had a chance to tie the game.

 All of that offered Huggins something to grasp at with just three regular-season games — at Kansas and Oklahoma and at home against Iowa State — and the Big 12 Tournament left ahead of him and the team.

Then there is the play of Eron Harris, a freshman guard who seems to be heading for stardom once he finds some consistency. Harris scored a career-high 25 points against Baylor after combining for just six points in the previous two games.

He is the Mountaineers’ top scorer in Big 12 games at 12 points a contest.

“I do feel better about the team,” Huggins said. “Obviously, we’re going to a very difficult place to play. The reason (it’s a hard place to play) is because they have been pretty good. In fact, real good.”

In truth, Kansas is one of the storied programs in college basketball history. Its program was founded by the man who invented the sport. It has been home to Wilt Chamberlain and many other legendary players. It has won the national championship and dominated its conference.

It is such a storied program that it warranted Huggins getting included in his contract a $25,000 bonus should he find a way to beat the Jayhawks, a win being worth at least that much in prestige and help in recruiting.

And, while Huggins isn’t about to say his team’s talent is deep enough or good enough to win this game, he notes that it hasn’t been quite as bad as this year’s 13-15 record would indicate.

“Our problem has been shooting ourselves in the foot, not other people shooting us in the foot,” he said.

Inexperience and mistakes have beaten the Mountaineers on most nights, not necessarily being overmatched.

Oh, there have been games like Gonzaga where they just didn’t match up, but there were also games where they could have and should have won.

Part of it was Huggins having the wrong people on the court, something he admits to and says he has corrected beginning with the Baylor game when he changed his starting lineup and altered his rotation.

“If we don’t play as hard as we possibly can there’s no reason to have those guys on the floor,” he said. “That’s been my fault. I tried to coax some people along. I made an error in the way I handled those guys.”

He named no names but Aaric Murray and Jabarie Hinds saw limited playing time in the Baylor game.

“I’ve always been ‘we’ll make mistakes but do it with great enthusiasm and do it as hard as we can do it,’” Huggins said, indicating he had been letting some players slide this year and keep playing when they failed to do that.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.