Rollercoaster Nature Of Play Frustrates Huggins
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Among West Virginia’s largest issues continues to be that of its largest players.
With a veteran – and typically savvy – backcourt, the struggle has been the consistency at the forward positions. There have been stellar games by the likes of Lamont West, Teddy Allen and Esa Ahmad. In turn, each player has had lapses, poor match-ups and worse execution in games that have cost the frontcourt production at key times. It seems a continual shuffle for head coach Bob Huggins, who must try to find the correct hand to play in each outing.
Consider the performance of West, arguably the easiest to diagnose because of how much his shot affects the remainder of play. The sophomore lit up Oklahoma for 17 points and scored in double figures versus Oklahoma State and Kansas. But when Baylor went zone, the zone buster managed just two points on one of five shooting. It didn’t truly negate WVU’s offensive prowess, the Mountaineers rolling to 40 first half points and a massive lead at the break.
But the 1-for-5 showing was every bit as surprising as Ahmad’s difficulty in dissecting Kansas’ defense and being able to navigate. At 6-foot-8, 230 pounds, Ahmad’s match-up against the Jayhawks wasn’t overwhelming. Yet the junior struggled to a two-point, three-rebound showing with only a lone field goal. The aggressiveness seemed lacking, with Ahmad taking just three shots. That came on the back of Ahmad scoring just three points versus TCU.
The games surrounding that duo? A 14-point performance against Oklahoma, a 16-point outpouring versus Oklahoma State and the 15 points against Baylor. Ahmad connected on 9-of-17 shots against the Oklahoma teams, and though he was more a volume scorer against Baylor in going 5-for-13 from the field, he also managed four rebounds, three assists and a steal and block against just one turnover. It was a game Huggins termed one of Ahmad’s finest and likely “his best since Texas Tech.
“Esa was focused,” Huggins said. If we just can get them all playing at once. Teddy had the ball around the hoop and doesn’t score it. We gotta get Lamont going again. You have to be consistent. We’ve gotta get them all playing at the same time.”
If that happens, look out. This isn’t purely offensive-based, either. Allen saw limited minutes against Kansas, much to the chagrin of portions of the fan base – because the Jayhawks were effective at driving the ball at him off the perimeter. The freshman picked up two quick fouls and played just three minutes while never taking a shot. Huggins quickly saw that Allen’s foot speed failed to match what KU offered off the dribble, and it behooved the team to bench the scorer and slide minutes to Ahmad and West, who played 30 and 22, respectively.
But Ahmad has struggled on defense in stretches as well. There have also been a handful of turnover issues with less than stellar ball security, while West has battled with his own shot selection. That’s not to note that perfection is attainable, or needed. Each of the three brings a vastly different skill set to the table, even past being tagged as the shooter, or the pure scorer, or the best all-around offensive threat on the team.
But for Huggins to find the consistent upside he seeks – and not sift through the hand dealt pending the performance of the night – all three will have to lock into what they do well without forcing what they don’t. That’s been among the biggest obstacles for the trio this season, and it’ll be an aspect to watch heading into the final three games of the regular season starting with Saturday’s 6 p.m. home tip against Iowa State.
“Watch some Iowa State tape and we will go (today) and Friday and be ready to go Saturday,” Huggins said.