Huggins: We Lost A Couple We’d Like Back
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The saddest of Bob Huggins’ words echoed the truth following West Virginia’s 85-70 win over Iowa State on Saturday.
The victory vaulted the No. 21 Mountaineers into a second-place tie with No. 6 Texas Tech in the Big 12 race. It appears, once again, that Kansas will walk away with its record-setting 14th straight regular season championship, snapping the mark of 13 set by UCLA from 1967-79. The Jayhawks lead WVU and Tech by two games entering the final week of the season, and KU owns the tiebreak via a sweep over West Virginia while getting a season split with the Red Raiders.
Huggins’ comments weren’t quite John Greenleaf Whittier’s “of all the words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.” But they flirted with the sentiment.
“Do you know what John F. Kennedy said when they asked him to run for Vice President because he was young, aristocratic and catholic? He said ‘Why settle for second when first is available?'” Huggins said. “We lost a couple games, in hindsight, that we’d like to have back, that would have put us in a position where that could’ve been us taking the trophy instead of someone else.”
Namely, those were the home and road losses to Kansas, with blown double-digit leads in each. Or the defeats to Oklahoma State at home and Iowa State on the road, both bottomfeeders in the Big 12. If WVU simply splits those, it enters the last two games of the year leading Kansas in the standings. In a season in which KU struggled, no other program, the Mountaineers included, were able to seize what was there for the taking.
It’ll leave a lot of heads shaking, forever playing the what-if game as big leads evaporated and West Virginia tumbled from No. 2 nationally to five losses in six games before recovering. Clearly, the team is on an upswing now, the latest notch in the belt the satisfying, drama-free victory over the Cyclones. That’s five wins in seven games and it would have been a 6-1 stretch without the meltdown at Allen Fieldhouse.
The 21 wins are solid in their own right, and Huggins lauded the performances of Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad. Carter garnered his 500th assist to set a Power Five conference record as the first player to score at least 1,500 points while also reaching 500 rebounds, 500 assists and 300 steals.
“He has put in an enormous amount of work,” Huggins said. “We’re really proud of him. I know I keep saying that, but he has really put in an enormous amount of work. It’s really good to see a guy who works that hard be rewarded for it.”
Carter scored a team-best 24 points, while Ahmad hit for 18 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. The duo combined to connect on 16-of-29 from the floor to pace four players in double figures as West Virginia reached 80-plus points for the 14th time in a win, this coming at the expense of a beat-up and fading Iowa State team which has now lost six of seven.
“I thought Iowa State was terrific for being down on numbers the way they were,” Huggins said. “(Esa and I) had a talk before the Baylor game about him being more active. He should be and he’s probably making himself here of late. He should be the best offensive three-man in the league. He’s big, he’s strong, he has great hands. We need him to help Sags (Konate) and everybody else on the glass.”
WVU got that aspect and more. But even the solid, steady win failed to pull the team any closer to the front-runner in Kansas, a thought that could linger – and motivate – heading into the Big 12 Tournament in early March.