Huggins The Difference in WVU Win Over Mizzou
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The scorebook told much of the story early Monday morning, after West Virginia had put on one of the most frantic runs in the school’s storied basketball history to beat Missouri, 83-79, in the finals of the AdvoCare Invitational. Much of the story and, at the same time, only a small portion of the story.
True, Jevon Carter had reached a career high with 29 points and had inspired with a steal a comeback that wiped out a 16-point deficit in the last 7:45 of the game while also hitting the 3-point goal that finally gave WVU the lead.
But the real story behind this game was the coaching job turned in by Bob Huggins, who somehow has managed to win 830 games in his career without acknowledgement from the Hall of Fame but who would surely be accorded a unanimous vote for induction if this game tape were included with his name on the ballot.
Huggins’ image overwhelms everything people think of him, from his snarling at officials, his reprimands for his players to his long, tough practices, all of which makes him seem of more of a bully than a technician, yet there is another side to the man that is.
Bob Huggins knows basketball and Bob Huggins knows psychology and he had called upon both, maybe as never before, in this game that seemed destined to go into the defeat column.
It begins with his handling of Carter and Miles, two players who find themselves thrust onto a team that is not only without a key player in Esa Ahmad, who is sitting out a half-season NCAA suspension, but on this night against a superior front line was without his top inside presence, Sagaba Konate, who was there in body but not in mind or spirit.
“What I was really happy about was I’ve been on JC, I’ve been on Dax, I’ve been on them about how it’s your team,” Huggins revealed after the game. “If you guys don’t work — and JC always does, but Dax tends to take a little time off occasionally …”
He didn’t finish that thought, didn’t have to for anyone who watches WVU play knows that if those two aren’t going all out, this is a team with little chance for they are the most experienced and most talented, as a combined 55 of 83 points would show on this night.
The performance by Miles, who is often the object of Huggins’ scorn because he seems to go onto vacations at the darnedest times on court, especially pleased Huggins.
“I told him over there that ‘the Daxter Miles I thought I had was in there somewhere. He finally came out.’ He played tonight,” Huggins said.
But the game really didn’t start for WVU until taht 7:45 point, until it seemed a light went on.
It wasn’t, however, a matter of flipping a switch.
Instead, it was a matter of Huggins’ ability to find something that would work defensively.
“We were in a 1-3-1 and they figured that out. We’d tried some pressure before. We tried to push up ball screens, we tried to string out ball screens and none of it worked,” Huggins admitted.
And so it was he turned to a blank page in his playbook.
“I said at the time out, ‘Fellas, I guess we are what we are. Let’s go be us. Let’s go get ‘em and let the chips fall where they may. Let’s be us. Let’s do what we do,’” he said.
That was something you can’t draw up with Xs and Os.
That was simply “Press Virginia.”
Not the one with Nathan Adrian at the point.
Not the one with John Flowers.
This was ‘Helter Skelter’. They just came at Missouri, challenged every move, every pass, every dribble.
“Missouri kind of pulled back a little bit. They got a little conservative and that’s a bad thing to do against pressure,” Huggins said. “That pressure just comes after you. You get afraid to make a mistake … and we made some plays.”
Oh, did they make plays. They wound up with 13 steals and forcing 20 turnovers.
“That’s what we do,” Huggins said. “We need to get a whole lot better at that. That needs to be the norm.”
And yet, somehow while they were frantic on defense, they managed to remain disciplined on the offensive side.
“We were on them about turnovers. We turned it over seven times the first half,” Huggins noted. “We turned it over one time the second half. One time!”
It well might be that Huggins finally found the persona of his team, and without much more than Virginia standing in its way until the Big 12 schedule starts, the Mountaineers could put themselves into position for a big run when Ahmad returns.