By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In the end, as Bob Huggins put together his post-mortem on West Virginia’s highly discouraging introduction to Big 12 basketball, a 67-57 loss to Oklahoma on the home floor that came after thrilling a crowd of 12,112 by building a 12-point lead, the words he had to offer were those he always least likes to say.
He can admit that a team outsmarts his team. He can even admit it outshoots the Mountaineers, outruns them.
All of that, of course, happened in this game, but the key, the gut-wrenching word that he would utter in the end, were words that just do not associate themselves with Bob Huggins’ teams.
His team may not be the best team, but it is the toughest.
Or has been until this year.
“Today, we got out-toughed,” he said.
His team was roughed up on the inside, especially down the stretch. Look at the stats. Points in the paint: Oklahoma 30, West Virginia 10.
You don’t win when that happens and Huggins knows it all too well.
Huggins’ mind drifted back to better times.
“The truth is they wanted to win more than we did. We throw it close and miss, they throw it close and score, go to the line and make free throws,” he began. “I said downstairs … you know, we went to Old Miss a few years ago and Andy [Kennedy] went to a 2-3 zone and Alex Ruoff missed what seemed like 100 shots in a row from the corner, Da’Sean missed shots, but know what, we rebounded and did a pretty good job at the other end.
“I remember Notre Dame here and Mike Brey goes 2-3 and we can’t make a shot. We can’t buy one. Those were pretty good shooters on that team of ours, too, I think. Alex Ruoff was the all-time leading three-point shooter in the history of West Virginia basketball and he couldn’t make one, but we rebounded. We kept ball alive and guarded at the other end.
“If you remember, that was Cam Thoroughman, who’s 6-5 guarding Luke Harangody, the returning Big East Player of the Year, and we won.”
Cam Thoroughman wasn’t pretty, but he reeked of the toughness this team is lacking.
Toughness that allows you to impose your will on the opposition at key times in the game.
In this one freshman guard Terry Henderson played the first half like a superstar, banging home 3-point shots like most players score on layups … most players who don’t play for WVU. Henderson hit 5 of 7 3-point shots in the first half while the entire team managed only 6 2-point baskets, one of them his.
As spectacular as was that 18-point first-half performance, you knew the percentages said that could not keep up … and that meant someone else had to step up.
On this team, though, finding a take-charge tough guy who can do the winning things on a basketball court is just difficult to come up with.
“Any team gets a lead on us, they try to step on our throats,” Jabarie Hinds said. “We just need to do the same thing and we’ll be all right.”
The second half, all season, has been mostly catastrophic and this was no different with Oklahoma outscoring them 38-22.
“I know they had five consecutive misses on first shots and five consecutive offensive rebounds. They just outmanned us. They were just tougher on the glass than we were,” Huggins said.
That’s inexcusable, but happens. What can’t happen, though, is to just simply give games away.
And that’s what WVU keeps doing. After opening the 12-point lead, they finished the final 17 minutes of the game with four baskets and six turnovers.
A couple of days ago Huggins referred to the problems the team has been having running plays out of timeouts.
“I can’t even get them lined up in the right place,” he said.
So what happens in the Big 12 opener?
“I guess we don’t have the greatest listeners in the world. I mean, we get a 5-second count on a timeout after I tell the guy they are going to try and string it out. All you have to do is step to the ball.
“Instead of stepping to the ball, he ran to half court. It’s hard to confuse stepping to the ball with running to half court,” Huggins said.
It’s like there’s a language barrier.
The result is that somehow this Huggins basketball team couldn’t even outscore the West Virginia football team in its Big 12 debut, beating Baylor, 70-63.
You might say they lost by two touchdowns.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.