Tennessee Rallies After Slow Start To Rout WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — ESPN is the network with a heart, or so it would seem, for rather than carrying No. 1 Tennessee’s dissection West Virginia, 83-66, to the bitter end of their SEC-Big 12 Challenge game, they showed mercy upon America and switched to the start of the Kansas-Kentucky game and let the final few minutes expire in the vast void of ESPNNews.
That allowed the Mountaineers to die another peaceful basketball death, falling to 9-11 while Tennessee was rocking and rolling to “Rocky Top” as it won its school-record 15th straight game to go to 18-1.
It also dropped WVU to 1-5 in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge Series, meaning it is hardly good news that the two leagues agreed to a six-year extension earlier in the day on Saturday.
To make matters worse, as if they could be, the oft-injured WVU guard Beetle Bolden went down with what appeared to be a badly sprained right ankle as he came down wrong on an alley-oop play early in the second half.
He left the arena on crutches and, with Sagaba Konate also out, the overmatched Mountaineers now look as thought they will be without their two best players, which leaves them looking and a long February but a short March.
It was the same ankle that Bolden had hurt on Friday during practice. He also has been playing with a hip pointer, a shoulder injury and a wrist injury.
“I feel bad for him. He hasn’t had the year he wanted to have but he hasn’t had a chance,” Coach Bob Huggins said.
Oddly, Huggins pretty well dissected the way this game would play out long before the tipoff.
“The adage a bad pass leads to a bad shot is very true,” he said during a pregame radio discussion, as if realizing that the Mountaineers would turn the ball over 24 more times in this game and go through a first-half dry spell that last from 11:07 to 1:28, almost 10 full minutes without a point.
As it was, they were outscored 24-2 by Tennessee over that last 11:07 to watch and 12-point lead transform into a 31-21 halftime deficit.
Again, we turn to Huggins pregame discussion as to what has been plaguing his team.
“We have to finish plays,” Huggins said. “We haven’t been without opportunities. We got Kansas State down by 21 and let them back in but we had chance to win at the end and what do we do? We turn it over.”
Not much difference here.
True, WVU didn’t belong on the same court with this No. 1 team in the nation, a team that Dick Vitale told Huggins reminded him of his own Final Four team at WVU with Da’Sean Butler.
But there were moments.
“We’re up 19-16, run an out of bounds play and have a guy wide open and our guy throws a bounce pass from out of bounds and hits him in the foot. I played a long time and never hit anyone in the foot with the ball,” Huggins said.
“Why throw a bounce pass coming from out of bounds? If it hits the line it’s a violation.”
But the truth be known, this was men playing with boys.
“We got big-boyed,” is the term Huggins used to describe it. “They came out and they were really physical with us and we didn’t respond to their physicality.”
This was best shown by the Vols holding a 40-26 edge in points in the paint.
For the last 31 minutes of the game Tennessee did everything they wanted against West Virginia.
“We went 10 minutes and didn’t score. They shot layups and we got out of their way,” Huggins said. “It’s hard to stomach, really. Obviously I’ve lost a whole lot of games in my career but I always felt our guys fought.
“There’s a loose ball and they got a guy diving on the floor and we got a guy standing there waving at the ball. I’ve never seen that before. Never, ever seen that before. Dive on the floor … take a charge … block a guy out … go get a second shot.
“We stand and watch, man. That’s hard to take.”
Especially against a team that may eventually win the national title.
“They’re good. They deserve everything they got. They are extremely well coached. They are a veteran group. They got a lot of things going for them … but fight! You know. We competed for a little bit and we quit.”
Esa Ahmad and Derek Culver comprised what little offense WVU could muster, Ahmad with 16 points and Culver 15 as the only two to reach double figures.
Once again there was disappointment from Bolden before he was injured as he hit but 1 of 6 shots and Lamont West, who hit 1 of 7. They are counted on to provide much of WVU’s outside game.
And once again West Virginia from the free throw line as if they were being double-teamed there, hitting only 55.6% for the game.
Meanwhile, Tennessee did what it wanted offensively, Lamonte Turner showing the way with 23 points and National Player of the Year candidate Grant Williams scoring 19.
West Virginia does not play again until it travels to Iowa State on Wednesday.