Mountaineers A Victim Of Tougher Foes And Own Miscues
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s been a combination of things, this stretch of four losses in five games.
But isn’t it always? It’s a rare occurrence when a coach can pinpoint one specific aspect of play that befalls a team. If that’s the case, it becomes an obvious focus and gets corrected quickly. But like when West Virginia was winning games in a variety of ways, so have the Mountaineers lost because of a host of issues.
Among them? Lack of easy points in transition, which has put an increased emphasis on halfcourt offense. That has led to more difficult shots, which has caused shooting slumps, which has triggered scoring droughts. Offensive rebounding was a problem against Kentucky. WVU failed to make step-in shots against Kansas. It has also struggled on the defensive end at times, and had key players in foul trouble.
Taken individually, these issues could be overcome with increased production in other areas. But when a multitude overlap – like Sags Konate’s foul trouble against Kentucky, which caused rebounding issues and allowed the Wildcats far easier access to points in the paint or off the drive – well, you get a season slump like what West Virginia is currently battling.
“Our halfcourt defense isn’t as good as it was. Our full court pressure isn’t as good as it was.,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “We haven’t rebounded the ball as well. Our biggest concern of the year was ‘Were we going to be able to score inside?’ I think Sags has gotten so much better and become a threat in there. We have to do a better job of getting him the ball. We’ve got some areas that we have to clean up.”
Sometimes, it’s simply that the other team elevates their level of play. That likely happened against Texas Tech and TCU on the road, two foes that were laying in wait for the highly-rated Mountaineers. It certainly happened against Kentucky, when the Wildcats hit all 18 free throws in the second half while turning the ball over just five times in the second half after committing 10 turnovers in the first 10-plus minutes of play.
“People have in all honestly played well,” Huggins said. “Give Kentucky a lot of credit for coming back, but they went 18-for-18 at the free throw line from people who shoot 52 percent for the year. That’s not going to happen again. I would venture to say for the rest of the year they won’t go 18-for-18 from the line ever again. It’s a lot of things, but the bottom line is there’s a right hand column and a left hand column. You try to get as many in the left hand column as you can. You gotta have the ones there for the taking and when they are taken it stings a little harder.”
It’s what makes Wednesday’s game at Iowa State a key. The No. 15 Mountaineers (16-5, 5-3) are in a three-way tie for second place in the Big 12 facing the last place Cyclones (11-9, 2-6). Lose, even in a difficult venue like the Hilton Coliseum, and one wonders about the psychology of being able to overcome such. That’s especially true with a schedule that shows games against a hot Kansas State squad – K-State’s only pair of losses in seven games have come versus Kansas- and at No. 12 Oklahoma.
Drop the game at Iowa State, and that free fall might become significantly longer. If nothing else, the defeats have led to a snap back in attention, a sort of wake-up slap across the proverbial face with a return to fundamentals.
“I think defensively we have gone into places and done a pretty good job,” Huggins said. “We haven’t tried to outscore people; we have tried to sit down and guard people. I think that ought to be a constant. It hasn’t been a constant for us here of late.
“Sometimes you get more concerned about what other people are going to do than what you are doing. It’s a grind. With our travel, I try not to go as long and when we were really good it was early in the year and we were really hitting the fundamental things hard. We were breaking things down and I think as you get later in the season the tendency is to do more team things, so you team guard more. Then you want another defense that if they hurt your man you can play zone, 1-3-1 or halfcourt trap or do something.”
Huggins also addressed the issue of Esa Ahmad, and if the forward’s return disrupted team chemistry.
“He comes back, and even though he plays pretty well, people started bringing up our chemistry: ‘Why would you let him come back? Those other guys are playing so well,'” Huggins said. “He’s had some un-Esa-like games, but he’s pretty much starting over.
“We were excited because it gave us more depth. But at the same time Teddy (Allen) has gone 1 for his last 10 on field-goal attempts. Lamont (West) is shooting 23 percent from three the last five games and Dax (Miles) is shooting 15 percent. It wasn’t just Esa. We’ve got a slew of guys that were making open shots who aren’t making more shots now. That puts more pressure on everybody.”
Note: Huggins was also asked about the potential for a new NCAA rule stating players would have a one-time option to transfer and be immediately eligible at any school. The though is it would significantly disrupt rosters and the recruiting process for building a team each year.
“I’m not going to have my guys go down there and shake the hand of the other coach if he’s trying to recruit them,” Huggins said. “To me that’s absurd. I think where we are getting is that we are so tuned into individual rights that we forget about everybody else. I was always taught individual rights stop where other people’s begin.
“Now your best player is going to transfer out, and probably – this has happened with the graduate transfers – in most cases they go to summer school to make sure they do academically what they need to do to be eligible somewhere else. Now you are sitting there in June, July, August and there’s nobody out there to get unless you go poach somebody else’s program. The people who are in favor of this must never have been on a team.”