|West Virginia guard Juwan Staten finished with a game-high 19 points, including the go ahead three-point play with 3:41 left in the game.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Bob Huggins showed us once again on Saturday night against Marshall in the 2013 Chesapeake Energy Capital Classic why he’s won 730 career basketball games.
His young team was playing horribly. It couldn’t make shots, hold onto the basketball or perform with the energy needed to take the lead away from the fired-up Thundering Herd.
Huggins sensed it early on when his guys were missing wide-open shots they normally make, let balls hit the ground they normally grab and throw passes that sometimes defied logic.
At halftime when ROOT Sports sideline reporter Rob Incmikoski grabbed Huggins for a quick television interview, the coach was succinct: “We can’t play any worse than we’re playing right now – at least I hope,” he said.
Having coached more than a thousand career basketball games, Huggins understands better than anybody that these things sometimes happen from time to time. When you’re dealing with 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds it’s simply unavoidable over a 30-plus-game regular season schedule, no matter what the stakes are or who the opponent is.
You simply have to weather the storm, keep looking for the right combination of players and get to a point in the game when you can try and steal it.
Huggins finally got the right blend of players on the floor when he brought forward Brandon Watkins
off the bench - the same Brandon Watkins
who didn’t play a single minute in the Gonzaga loss last Tuesday night and only two minutes against Missouri nine days prior.
Watkins responded by giving West Virginia 12 points, 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and a pair of big steals in 25 minutes of action.
“He scored a little bit around the rim and he changes shots,” said Huggins of his 6-foot-9-inch freshman. “He’s the one guy we have that changes shots and the thing about getting out-rebounded the way we have been getting out-rebounded, when you don’t have anyone around the rim who can change anything around the rim then they are going to score.”
Then when the game got tight he wanted to make sure the ball was in junior Juwan Staten
’s hands. There were two consecutive possessions late in the game when Huggins wanted the floor spread so that Staten could go to the rim. The first resulted in a three-point play that got the Mountaineers their first lead with 3:41 remaining, and the next resulted in a Remi Dibo stick-back basket that gave WVU a three-point advantage.
“I’ve got a world of confidence in (Staten),” said Huggins. “If we give him the ball we’re going to get a shot. I can’t promise we’re going to make it, but he is going to get somebody a shot.
“What it does is it enables us to rebound the ball because he forces people to help so much. You get people to help up and that puts you on the inside,” Huggins continued. “They killed us on the offensive glass in the first half and they had some flurries in the second half when we didn’t do a good job, and a lot of that was because of their penetration.”
Finally, Huggins resisted the urge to go to the half-court trap when Marshall was carving up his defense with dribble drives to the basket earlier in the game. His reasoning was two-fold.
“I don’t like to play it in the first half because I don’t want them to go in and get on the board and be able to try and fix things, and more importantly than that, because of who we have to have in the game to do it,” he explained. “Juwan Staten
can’t run around like that the whole game and then do what he does on offense. He just can’t do it.
“The guys kept saying can we go extend it? Can we go extend it? Can we go extend it? I said wait until under-four (timeout) and as soon as we got to the under-four we went to it and really kept them out of the lane.”
Former Temple coach John Chaney used to refer to it as “coaching on your feet.”
I recall Terry Bowden once telling the story about his father, Bobby, instructing his players not to get a first down at a particular point in a football game. He wanted them to come up just short so he could run a play that he had the other team perfectly set up for. That’s what coaching on your feet is, and Huggins was forced to do a lot of that on Saturday night.
“We had a timeout and (assistant coach) Ronny (Everhart) said do we want to change? Do we want to give them a 1-3-1 look?” said Huggins. “I asked Staten and (Eron) Harris what they wanted to play and they said let’s extend it. Let’s extend it. When your guys have confidence in something, and they are enthused about playing it, why would you switch and do something else?”
The key, though, was using it at the right moment in the game.
“Those guys play heavy minutes, particularly Wanny, and we can’t play it without him and Gary (Browne) in the game,” said Huggins. “I wanted to make sure they had enough juice to finish the game.”
West Virginia outscored the Herd, 12-2, over the remaining 3:41 with both Marshall points coming from the free throw line. As a result, West Virginia had another victory in the Capital Classic and Huggins gained sole possession of 16th place on the NCAA all-time victory list.
It wasn’t the first one of those he’s had in 32 years of coaching, and it likely won’t be his last.