WVU’s Huggins Caught In Game of Whack-a-Squirrel? Beaver?

WVU’s Huggins Caught In Game of Whack-a-Squirrel? Beaver?


It might be hard to picture head coach Bob Huggins as a carnival kind of guy. In fact, he says his extent of participation in that sort of old school event was usually, (and unsurprisingly) limited to shooting hoops. However, he did admit to feeling recently as if he has been caught in a life-sized version of one of the more popular games on the midway.

“Ever go to a school carnival? They have those squirrels or beavers or whatever they are, and you have the mallet and you bang them and another one pops up,” he said with amusement. “That’s what I feel like every day, like I’m back at the Midvale Carnival.”

The game which Huggins was circling around is Whack-A-Mole, and it seems like a good descriptor of his early season quest to work on problems confronting his team. From the varied injuries that have cropped up, through passing and pressing and decision-making, it seems to Huggins as if it’s something different every day.

That’s not to despair, though. WVU’s passing and ball protection have improved over the past two contests, and he believes that arc is continuing. Assisting in that regard is the expected return of a team leader.

“I think we are going to have Beetle (Bolden) back,” Huggins said. “He practiced yesterday, for the first time in a long time.That makes us better.”

Also assisting in the improvement has been Brandon Knapper and Emmitt Matthews, who both have drawn praise from the veteran coach for their willingness to learn.

After complimenting Matthews in that regard following WVU’s win over Valparaiso, Huggins did the same for Knapper, who earned his first start in the contest.

WVU (3-2) vs. Rider (2-1) Wed Nov 28 6:30 PM ET
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: WVU 2-1
NET: WVU – 147 RU – 121 TV: ATTSN Last: WVU 88-66 (1978)
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“Knapper listens  He tries to do what you ask him to do. He doesn’t think he has all the answers. He wants to play,” Huggins said, rapping out the pluses he sees from the redshirt freshman. “Some guys try to fake it. He’s listening.”

There are still plenty of issues to address, however, starting with the defense. The allowance of straight-line drives — occasions where an opponent drives the ball straight to the bucket without being impeded or turned by a defender, have been a bane for Huggins and the coaching staff this year. They aren’t asking for lockdown defenders — just the ability to make the ballhandler turn or slow his progress.

“Try to stay in front of them,” was Huggins deadpan response to what his team has to do better. “Stay between your man and the basket. It makes it hard to go to the bench when you know those guys are going to get straight-lined. You can’t help on straight lines.”

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WVU will put its practice results to the test on Wednesday against Rider, which comes in with a 2-1 record and a higher NET ranking than the Mountaineers. While most will view the game as an easy win for West Virginia, Huggins noted that will not be the case.

“It’s going to be a really hard game. We can’t turn it over they way we did earlier in the year. We are going to have to play,” he said of the Broncs, who have wins over Coppin State and Wagner around a loss to UCF. “They are experienced and play great together. They know where each other are going to be when they get into trouble.  These guys are the best team in their league. I was really impressed watching them on film.”

The favorites in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Broncs are led by forward Domenico Vaughn (So., 6-5, 210 lbs.) and Jordan Allen (So., 6-4, 195 lbs.). They combine for 33 points per game in an offense that is designed to drive to the rim and get open 3-point looks if the penetration is closed off. Vaughn, the reigning MAAC player of the week, is hitting 60% of his shots from the field, while Allen is canning an even 50%.

They shoot it,” Huggins said. “This is a good team. It isn’t a team that comes in and loses by 20 and is happy they came. They are coming to win.”

NOTES

Located in Lawrenceville, N.J., Rider is just 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia. It mines that area heavily to stock its roster, as six players on this year’s team are from the Philly metro area. Another five live within an 80 mile radius.

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WVU forward Wes Harris, who did not play against Valparaiso, is available for duty. Huggins termed his sit-out last Saturday as a coach’s decision.

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The Broncs are hitting an excellent 42.9% from 3-point range, but that has not translated to the free throw line. From just 15 feet away, Rider is converting only 55.6% of its attempts.

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Esa Ahmad and Konate are coming off career perfomances against Valparaiso. Ahmad had a career-high 30 points against the Crusaders, while Konate had a career-best 26 points and 10 rebounds. Konate was 5-of-8 from 3-point range.

“I don’t mind if he shoots those,” Huggins said of Konate’s attempts from distance. “I do mind if he shoots it quick.”

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