One thing was abundantly clear back on Nov. 12 when West Virginia got taken to the woodshed by Gonzaga: Gonzaga had the look of a team that has played together now for two or three years while the Mountaineers looked like they have been playing together for about two or three weeks, which in reality, is what Coach Bob Huggins is dealing with right now.
“I thought we would be better. I thought our returning guys would do a better job, but the honest to God truth is we started three who haven’t played,” said Huggins.
Earlier this week, the coach said they have been working on such things as when and when not to take shots and how to make better decisions with the basketball in their hands. He also says he’s looking for more consistency from some of his veteran players.
“Some days we’ve been pretty good and other days not so good,” he said. “We haven’t been as consistent as what we need to be. Some days you see some bright spots and other days you don’t.”
Since the Gonzaga loss, Huggins and his coaches have been covering everything from A to Z in practice.
“We have a tendency to watch instead of playing so we get beat to balls because we don’t react,” Huggins explained. “We’ve been trying to work on that. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to do a better job of guarding.
“I think the hard thing about running motion (offense) is we’ll be a whole lot better at the end of the year because we’ll have more guys that learn how to pass the ball, but when you’re putting the ball in so many people’s hands -particularly the number of people we’ve played - there’s a lot of people that you are depending upon to make decisions,” Huggins said. “(Against Gonzaga) that didn’t work out very well for us.”
No it didn’t.
West Virginia was never in the game, trailing by 18 at halftime before eventually falling 77-54. The Zags shot 56 percent, held their own on the glass (31 to 31), and limited the cold-shooting Mountaineers to just 32.7 percent from the floor, including a rancid 3-of-17 from behind the 3-point arc.
One change Huggins plans on making this week is making sure the basketball is in the hands of point guard Juwan Staten
more frequently. Staten, a Dayton transfer, is the only natural point guard on the Mountaineer roster.
“I’m going to let him make more decisions than those other guys are making,” Huggins said. “We’re going to have to be a little bit more selective as to who makes decisions. We’ve got guys trying to make plays that can’t make them that can really help us, but not in that regard. It’s a matter of really defining roles.”
As for his team’s continued shooting woes, Huggins says it’s not a matter of missing them that is troubling but rather that his players feel the need to create their 3-point shot opportunities, which often leads to bad shots.
“The truth of the matter is it’s hard for our bigs to rebound the ball when you never know when someone is going to burp it up,” Huggins said. “We’ve got some guys who really need to limit their shot-making exploits until the end of the (shot) clock. And then we all know they are going to shoot and we know to go and rebound the ball and life will be a lot better.”
What Huggins is also trying to get across to his young team is that players don’t need to score 20 points a game to be considered good players.
“They get all wrapped up in ‘I’ve got to score points’ when in reality they really don’t have to score points … or they can score points in a variety of ways,” he explained. “You can score points off your defense. You can score points by rebounding the ball. You can score points just on movement and then you can make some shots at the end of the clock. But you can always guard, you can always rebound and you can always do those little things that help make your team better.
“That’s what we’re missing. We’ve got guys who think they’re the guys who are supposed to take the shots. I don’t think we have anybody who doesn’t think that.”
This week, playing in the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Huggins will get a better idea of who is buying in to what he has been preaching the last week or so in practice.
“This is a heck of a field,” Huggins said. “Oklahoma is playing extremely well. Gonzaga is obviously playing extremely well. Davidson is playing well so we’re going to have to play a whole lot better than what we did.”
That begins with Thursday afternoon’s game against Marist, coming off a 67-62 victory over Columbia.
“They play hard and they try to spread you,” said Huggins. “They’re like everybody else when they make shots they’re very dangerous and when the shots don’t go in they struggle. They are considerably smaller than we are so they’re going to try and really spread us and shoot the 3-ball a lot and try and back cut you. It’s pretty much what we’re used to seeing.”
Tip off is set for noon and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2