“I think we have pushed through [adversity] better, in all honesty,” Huggins, speaking on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference, said of his team’s recent performances. “It was hard to see that at Kansas, but let’s be honest: when they make shots the way they made shots, they’re awful hard to guard.
“Those guys have four fifth-year seniors who understand and can make adjustments. And they did make adjustments. I think that’s been the hard thing -- even though we do have some upperclassmen, Deniz [Kilicli] is really the only one who has played much. It’s hard to make the kind of adjustments we need to make just because of our lack of knowledge and experience.
“I think you’ve seen we’re prepared when the game starts,” the head coach noted. “We’ve started pretty well in virtually every game here of late. Our problem comes when they do different things and make some adjustments. As I’ve alluded to all year, we don’t adjust when other people adjust. That part of it has, I think, been difficult for us.”
Players and coaches alike have remarked in recent weeks that some players on the WVU roster don’t know the team’s sets, making it a challenge to make any sort of adjustments whatsoever.
The criticism has focused heavily on the Mountaineers’ bloated sophomore class, which takes up essentially half of the roster. Add the problems of understanding to those of production, and Huggins has had little he can do to make corrections midseason.
“I mean, I don’t try to say this as a negative, but when you look at our sophomores, they’ve all shot it 10 to 12 percentage points lower than what they shot it as freshmen,” Huggins said.
“We didn’t get the impact we were hoping we’d get from the transfers. Obviously, things have happened. Matt Humphrey had his surgery two weeks before practice starts, and he wasn’t here over the summer, that certainly has an effect. The bottom line is we all need to do a better job, me included -- or me more than anybody else. We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Next up for the Mountaineers (13-16, 6-10 Big 12) is a third game this season against Oklahoma, which has beaten WVU on a neutral site and in Morgantown already. The neutral-site win came on Nov. 25, a 77-70 decision, while the game at the Coliseum on Jan. 5 finished as a 67-57 win for OU.
West Virginia already has considerable familiarity with the Sooners, but OU forward Romero Osby has become a real force of late, scoring 18 or more points in his last five games. Oklahoma is 3-2 in those games, with both losses coming in overtime on the road.
“I just think he’s getting more opportunities,” Huggins said. “He’s a hard matchup, I think, for any so-called four man to guard, because he bounces it so well. He can get it at the rim, and he can make shots obviously. And he’s got the physical strength to be able to play in the post and put people on his back. So I think he’s a tough matchup.”
It obviously hasn’t mattered much for WVU this season, but the difference between success and failure in college basketball can be razor-thin, according to Huggins.
Take Kansas State, for example, which finds itself locked in a battle with Kansas for the Big 12 regular season title. The Wildcats needed a last-second 3-pointer from Rodney McGruder to knock off Baylor over the weekend. Similarly, KU was fortunate to escape in a road game at Iowa State the previous weekend.
“You’ve got to have a bit of luck,” Huggins said. “Maybe luck isn’t the right way -- maybe fortune. You’ve got to get some things to fall the right way for you.
“The year we were very good here , I think Da’Sean Butler had seven game-winners himself. That’s what it takes. When you’re playing the caliber of people we all play day in and day out, a lot of emphasis is to last-second plays: can you get a stop? Can you make a steal? Can you get an open shot? Can you make it? If you don’t make it, can you rebound it and get another opportunity? Can you make free throws down the stretch? Obviously, they’ve done all those things.”
Again, WVU’s travel woes were discussed on the teleconference. Huggins emphasized that will be addressed moving forward, but was quick to note that the Mountaineers won’t dilute their schedule as a result.
“In terms of backing off the schedule, we’ve got Gonzaga here next year and Purdue here next year, and we’re scheduled to play Virginia Tech at Virginia Tech, as well as having Duquesne here and playing Wisconsin, Old Dominion or Saint Louis in the Cancun tournament,” Huggins said.
“So we’re not backing off, but I think we have to do a better job of managing the travel thing. None of us had any idea. I mean, let’s be honest: none of us had any idea what it would be like. From that standpoint, we’ve got to do a better job.”