By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
All season long, whenever anyone would ask coach Bob Huggins what his West Virginia team had to do to win games — and believe it, that question came up before almost every game — Huggins always had the same answer.
“Make shots,” he would say. “We’re pretty dang good when we make shots.”
Now, you may ask, who isn’t?
Shoot 50 percent or better from the floor and anyone has a pretty good chance to win.
But with West Virginia it was different.
Making shots was their only chance to win.
They weren’t going to beat anyone with their defense. They weren’t going to beat anyone with their rebounding.
They needed to have at least three guys making shots, but the problem is it isn’t as easy as just shooting the ball into the basket.
See, a lot goes into it, more than just hoping Eron Harris is hot, Juwan Staten is his usual self and Remi Dibo or Nathan Adrian are hitting a few 3s.
On Saturday, as WVU ended its regular season with a stirring 92-86 victory over Kansas, Staten and Harris made shots, freshman center Devin Williams finally joined them and with all three surpassing 20 points, Kansas never had a chance ... not even with super frosh Andrew Wiggins scoring 41 points.
That is not a misprint — 41.
At one point he scored 14 consecutive points. It was so good that it tied Notre Dame’s Hall of Fame player Adrian Dantley and five others for the eighth-most points ever by a visiting player in the Coliseum. Not since Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell dropped 41 on the Mountaineers on Dec. 26, 2009, had anyone done it, and the last to score 41 in the Coliseum was Ohio U.’s Gary Trent in 1993.
But it didn’t matter.
Now you ask, “Why?” Why on this Saturday did it come back together for WVU?
Well, Kansas coach Bill Self would have you believe a lot of it had to do with poor defense on his team’s part, and you can’t argue that.
But the biggest factor may have been a player who scored only four points for the Mountaineers, for this game marked the return to the floor of a weaker, far thinner version of Terry Henderson, who had missed the last four games with a flu-like ailment.
Playing 15 minutes was probably more than was expected of Henderson and the four points were something of a bonus, but it was his presence that made a difference.
How much of a difference?
When Henderson was on the floor for those 15 minutes, WVU outscored Kansas by 13 points.
Why would he make that kind of difference?
Kansas had to pay defensive attention to him. He is the team’s third leading scorer. Gary Browne they don’t worry about that way at the expense of leaving Staten and Harris open. But Henderson requires attention, and attention means spreading the floor and that means more lanes through which to drive to the hoop.
Plus there was the matter of an emotional lift having him back on the court after missing four games.
“He lifted our spirits a little bit,” Staten said. “We got down the last few games without him, and he’s such a big part of the offense and a big part of what we do. Having him check into the game lifted the crowd’s spirit and helped us play a little bit better than we could have played.”
By beating Kansas, West Virginia earned a No. 6 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, which meant they don’t play on the first day and that could have meaning, for it gives Henderson another day to recover from his return to action and to allow Harris to shake a sore throat and cough that was bothering him Saturday.
Winning that sixth seed was a blessing and a problem, for it meant a tough foe the first time on the court in Kansas City, facing Texas, a team that won a pair of double-figure victories over the Mountaineers
That didn’t faze Harris, though.
“Regardless, you are going to have to play basketball games, no matter how many. If you are the best team, you are the best team. We are going to go in there and be humble and just worry about ourselves.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.