KANSAS CITY – If West Virginia wants to continue its season in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, the Mountaineers are going to have to play like it did in the second half of last Saturday’s loss to Iowa State.
But if they play the way they did in the first half against the Cyclones, well, it might be a good idea to just keep the buses running when the Mountaineers take on Texas Tech in Wednesday night's opening round game.
“We’ve played well at times, we just haven’t been as consistent as what we need to be,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “Against Iowa State we played pretty well in spots. We’ve just got to be able to put it together.”
The Mountaineers dug themselves into a deep, 27-point hole early in the second half against Iowa State, and then nearly dug themselves out of it, trailing the Cyclones by only four with less than a minute to play.
But as has happened quite frequently during the team’s six-game losing streak – the longest of Huggins’ very long and very successful coaching career – a bad bounce here and a key mistake there kept West Virginia from finishing the deal.
The raspy voiced Huggins touched on some of his team’s recent difficulties during Monday morning’s weekly Big 12 coaches’ teleconference.
“I’m hoping we play a little bit more consistently,” he said. “We just have spells where we just kind of don’t do anything and get down and then we play pretty well in spots. We just got to put that together for an extended period of time.”
West Virginia’s Jekyll and Hyde personality also showed up the last time it won a basketball game back on Feb. 16 against Texas Tech. The Mountaineers had an eight-point lead with 2:31 left before having to hold on for dear life in a 66-64 victory.
Two weeks prior to that, West Virginia had a much more comfortable 77-61 win over the Red Raiders in Lubbock.
Texas Tech, which has lost 11 of its last 12 games, has actually tasted success more recently than West Virginia has, the Red Raiders knocking off TCU, 72-63, in Lubbock on March 2. Also, last Saturday Tech had Texas down for most of the game before falling 71-69 in overtime to the Longhorns.
The Red Raiders possess a 10-19 overall record with 12 of their 15 conference losses this season coming by double-digit margins. Jaye Crockett, who came off the bench to score 18 the last time these two teams played in Morgantown, is the only Texas Tech player averaging double figures at 11.9 points per game. Crockett was recognized last Sunday as an all-Big 12 honorable mention pick.
West Virginia, meanwhile, finished the regular season without a single player averaging double digits for the first time since 1944. Freshman Eron Harris
can still get there, though, the guard producing 296 points in 30 games for an average of 9.9 points per contest. However, Harris is averaging 12.5 points in Big 12 action and recently scored 25 in a home loss to Baylor and 23 in a road defeat at Oklahoma.Deniz Kilicli
, too, has played better in Big 12 games this year, scoring 20 in a recent loss at Oklahoma and producing a career-high 25 in the Texas Tech win. Had Kilicli made his free throws against the Red Raiders (he missed seven), and had his teammates been able to pass him the ball more frequently when he was open in the paint, Huggins believes the senior could have scored 40 in that game.
Huggins also thought West Virginia’s second half run against Iowa State last Saturday came when they were able to isolate Kilicli inside, even though he only managed to score 4 points for the game.
“When you look back at the stuff we did in the second half of the Iowa State game was stuff that we did three weeks ago, or a month ago, and I thought it worked out pretty well for us,” he said. “We really got Deniz isolated where they had to help and our spacing was better.”
Despite dropping six straight and seeing his team’s record sink to 13-18 – the fewest victories for Huggins since his first season coaching at Akron in 1985 – the veteran coach says the team attitude has not been a problem.
“While they haven’t been the greatest practice team I’ve ever had, they haven’t been the worst either,” he said. “I think their attitudes are still fine.”
Huggins repeated something again on Monday that he has said frequently since the team dipped below .500 two weeks ago – he just didn’t see this coming.
“We have a team that we recruited to play in the Big East and that’s not the style we are playing in the Big 12,” he noted. “We have some guys who obviously didn’t play quite as well as what they thought they were going to play, or as well as we thought they were going to play.
“The travel has been different and that is something that we’re going to have to find better solutions to,” Huggins added. “And the officiating is different. There are a whole lot of things going from one league to another league that I think have become an adjustment for us.”
Still, if the Mountaineers can play a little more consistently for longer stretches, Huggins sees no reason why they can’t make a run in Kansas City this week.
“I think if we can put it together we’re not that far away from being able to beat some pretty good people on any given night,” Huggins concluded.
Tip off for Wednesday night’s game is 7 p.m. EST and it will be televised on the Big 12 Network. MSN radio's pregame coverage begins with the Coliseum Countdown at 6:30 p.m.
The winner will advance to take on top-seeded Kansas on Thursday, March 14, at 3 p.m. EST.