MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - After taking a couple of days off for Christmas break, West Virginia is back at it preparing for Sunday’s mid-afternoon game against William & Mary in Charleston.
The Mountaineers have had some time now to ponder their three-point loss to Purdue last Sunday at the Coliseum - another close defeat for a West Virginia team that, so far this season, has won the games it was suppose to win and has lost all of the 50-50 games that could have gone either way.
Against the Boilermakers, West Virginia shot just 3 of 18 from 3 and hit only 36.9 percent of its field goal attempts, but veteran coach Bob Huggins says that’s not the reason his team lost the game.
“We lost because we gave up so many layups to the other team,” he said. “If we would have made them shoot jump shots instead of layups we probably would have won the game.”
Huggins is still not happy with the way his guys are playing defense and rebounding the basketball, claiming there are way too many times when straight-line drives are getting to the goal and his players are not keeping other teams off the glass.
“I could point to 10 things where if we did a little bit better we’re going to win the game,” he said. “We give up too many layups. We give up too many straight-line drives. It’s not that we haven’t worked on it. It’s not that we haven’t talked about it. We don’t rebound the basketball the way we need to rebound the basketball. We don’t finish it around the goal, and it’s hard when you don’t finish it around the goal.”
There has been one common theme in West Virginia’s five defeats this year to Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and Purdue – an inability for West Virginia to make shots close to the basket and then at the other end limit the other team from making the close ones near the goal.
And some of that is probably born out of not yet having a reliable player who Huggins can get the ball to inside when the jump shots aren’t falling.
“We had numerous tip-ins and shots around the goal that we don’t make – and we haven’t made them all year and that’s got to change,” said Huggins. “If the people that we have playing can’t do it then we’ve got to get someone else who can do it. We can’t continue to rely on shooting jump shots, because we saw the other day we’re not going to make them all the time.”
Also, in the five losses the Mountaineers have given up at least nine offensive rebounds (56 total offensive boards in those five games) - and that’s just way too many for Huggins to stomach.
“I think we’re at a point in time when maybe you take the kid gloves off and now you start treating them like veterans because they have played 12 games now and they’ve all played,” said Huggins.
The one young guy who Huggins says needs to get more playing time is 6-foot-9-inch freshman forward Brandon Watkins
, who recently had season highs of 12 points and 11 rebounds in a 74-64 win over Marshall and is the one player West Virginia has who can alter shots around the basket.
“He’s got to play,” Huggins said. “He’s earned it. He was behind those guys when he started and he’s probably made more progress than anybody on our team. He makes a difference around the goal and I think eventually he’s going to be able to score it around the goal.”
The one thing Watkins needs to learn to do is to not make foolish fouls, which Huggins says they can fix. “We’ve got to spend more time with him on that,” the coach admitted.
After facing 6-4 William & Mary Sunday in Charleston, the Mountaineers have two straight on the road to begin Big 12 play at TCU on Jan. 4 and then at Texas Tech two days later on Jan. 6.
In the meantime, there have been some missed opportunities in non-conference play, for sure, but Huggins is not one to simply wipe the slate clean with the Big 12 season showing up on the horizon.
“I think you learn from the past,” he said. “I’m a big believer in history. We’re going to continue to learn from all the things that we didn’t do and obviously the reasons that we didn’t win the games that maybe we could’ve, should’ve won. If you don’t learn from that then you’re probably not going to learn.”
Tip off for Sunday’s William & Mary game is set for 3 p.m. The contest will be televised locally on ROOT Sports and will also air on stations throughout West Virginia on the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling the Charleston Civic Center Box Office by calling 304-345-SHOW