By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins’ message to his West Virginia University team coming out of its disappointing 80-71 loss at Missouri that never really was as close as the final score indicates was a simple one – do what you do.
“We come out and we have too many guys playing out of character and doing things they can’t do instead of doing things they can do,” he said immediately after addressing his team on Thursday night in Columbia, Mo.
“I think, if you go back – and I’m doing this in a constructive way, I hope – to 2010, what did we say constantly? ‘Do … what … we … do!’ Before every game they would say, ‘Do … what … we … do!’” Huggins continued.
That, of course, became one of the great teams in WVU history.
“They understood it wasn’t the five most talented guys in the country,” Huggins explained. “It wasn’t five guys that had all the talent to go to the Final Four.
“What it was was a team that had five guys that were better than other people’s five guys because they played so well together.”
That is what he is emphasizing with this year’s team, a team that may not have Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, but that he believes can play as if it does.
“There was Devin Ebanks, a McDonald’s All-American. There’s a guy, you know, that could come in and score a lot of points, but I asked Devin to guard. I asked Devin to pass the ball. I asked Devin to be a facilitator so the team could have success,” Huggins said.
“He didn’t cry, complain. What did it get him? Three years in the NBA, that’s what it got him, because he could do things other guys couldn’t do.”
In the case of this year’s team, he is seeking the same attitude, the same product, and felt it slipped away at Missouri.
“We got out of character. We don’t have guys who are going to make step-back 3s. We don’t have guys who are going to dribble between their legs. Those same guys can’t go by anybody, but what they can do is make open shots,” Huggins said, referring mostly at moment to one his stars, Eron Harris, who threw up a step-back 3 that was blocked, upsetting Huggins so much that he put him on the bench for 12 minutes of the second half, meaning the team’s leading scorer played only 19 minutes of the game.
“I was in there with them after the game looking at who can make open shots,” Huggins continued. “Gary Browne can make open shots. Remi Dibo can make open shots. Nate Adrian can make open shots. Terry Henderson can make open shots. Eron Harris can make open shots. Really Devin Williams can make open shots, if he stays within his range. At times, Kevin Noreen can make open shots.
“Instead, we force things. We ran no offense. We forced everything. We tried to be somebody that we’re not. That, without a question, is a formula for failure.”
“A formula for failure.”
Strong words, but words Huggins is going to demand his team remember for he still has confidence in the team, believes if the Mountaineers follow his lead they will have a strong year.
“I mean I’m not the smartest guy in the world. I’ve done a lot of stupid things. I don’t make right decisions all the time. Maybe I don’t have the right game plan all the time, but whatever the game plan is, I have to have five guys doing it or it isn’t any good,” he said.
“I can’t have three. We’re playing 1-3-1 — and I know Gary Browne doesn’t mind me saying this. He’s supposed to be out in the middle of the floor and he’s chasing people around on the wing,” Huggins said, offering up an example of what he’s talking about.
“What do they do? They throw it to the middle of the floor and pitch it to their best shooter, who makes a 3 to end a little mini-run we had going. (Browne) didn’t do what the other four guys are trying to do. He knows … ‘Hey, Coach, I’m sorry. My bad, my bad, my bad.’ He didn’t do it anymore, but we can’t have those breakdowns. We’re not good enough to have those breakdowns.”
Not now, not with a top-20 Gonzaga team that beat WVU, 84-50, in last season’s opening game out West coming to the Coliseum for 9 p.m. – mark that time down – on Tuesday.
Huggins and his players are hoping to draw a big crowd after some of the smallest crowds ever in the Coliseum over Thanksgiving break.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.