Huggins Didn’t See It Coming, Vows Not To Relax Principles Again
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins didn’t see a team with the same fire as the one that played in the Big 12 Championship in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago, but he didn’t expect the total implosion that took place on the floor of the Coliseum in front of 6,775 horrified fans on Monday night. The Mountaineers came out with no zip, was beaten on the boards by a smaller team, and played as much defense as is featured in an average NBA All-Star game in absorbing a school record 109-91 defeat. The 109 points was the most ever yielded to an opponent in the WVU Coliseum.
“We had no bounce, had no pep in our step. They got to every loose ball. They start the second half, we block three shots, they get seven points out of three blocked shots. I didn’t see it coming,” said Huggins, who had spent some of the weekend in a hospital being treated for pneumonia and atrial fibrillation.
While the visiting Chanticleers were undeniably hot from the field, making some improbable shots that weren’t part of their normal repertoire, much of the blame circled back to WVU, which stood and watched shooters rather than challenging them.
That was compounded on the offensive end by a Mountaineer team that was intimidated by shorter foes.
“They made shots, yeah, they did. We had pretty much the same shots and didn’t make any,” Huggins compared. “We got intimidated around the goal by some 6-5 and 6-6 guys, let’s be honest. We’re usually trying to score around the goal with people much bigger than what they are.”
The biggest takeaway from the game, though, was what the West Virginia team of 2019-20 will look like. Huggins expounded on that more than once while bemoaning the way the season ended.
“It kills me because I know we had 6,500 people show up. They show up and start to believe in these guys, and we do this. It’s hard. It’s eating
me up. I guess the positive is I’ve learned not to compromise your principles for anybody. Nobody is more important than the team, which is the way it’s always been. This year, for whatever reason, it’s not what I did.”
While not naming any players on the squad that ended the season that might not return, Huggins certainly hinted as broadly as possible that more departures and changes could be forthcoming. He noted that players will have to “do the right things” in order to prove they can be the sort of leaders and bought-in performers that marked Mountaineer squads of the recent past.
“J.C. (Jevon Carter) had a great work ethic. Tarik (Phillip) had a great work ethic, for that matter. I think it’s more than that. You have to have some heart, you have to play through being tired, you have to play through being hurt, you have to play through things happening off the floor, you have to have a single-mindedness of purpose.
“This whole mess started because I compromised my principles,” Huggins continued. “You try to help people, and some people, you can’t help. This country has gotten so into individual rights, they don’t give a damn about anybody else. You have 13 guys on the team, you can’t do everything in the world for one guy when it’s detrimental to 12 others. We’re doing that as a country, and we’re certainly doing that in the NCAA. The thing about it is, when I first got here, our best player was our hardest worker. Joe Alexander was our hardest worker. He was our best player. After that, (we had) Da’Sean Butler. (Da’Sean) worked, but he wasn’t a great worker. He became a great worker. He was our best player. You go right down the line, and in the great teams that I’ve had, our leader has always been our hardest-working guy.”
Now the question is, does Huggins have any players on the current team that can fit that role — or meet the standards that he seems ready to lay down for next season. One thing is for sure, next year’s squad, no matter it’s makeup, will look a lot different from the one that started this season.
“I just know this,” Huggins summarized. “I know the difference between winners and losers is winners show up all the time. They don’t look for outs.”