MORGANTOWN - With a day to step back and evaluate things following a come-from-ahead loss to Oklahoma in his team's Big 12 opener, Bob Huggins did just that.And he came up with little that wasn't apparent all along.His West Virginia basketball team this season is not like those in recent years, which he has lamented time and again. Where others would make up for shortcomings in one area with tenacity and effort in others, this team has been unable to do that. Where others have had upperclassmen step up, this one has not.Will it ever change? Huggins doesn't sound quite sure.
"I think always in the past we've had seniors step up,'' Huggins said Monday. "We lost Joe Alexander and everybody said, 'Oh, what are you going to do?' Well, Da'Sean Butler stepped up. We lost Da'Sean Butler, Kevin Jones stepped up. I think our problem is we haven't had anybody step up, in all honesty.''Huggins isn't looking for a superstar to emerge. That would be nice, of course, but perhaps unrealistic.No, he's just looking for someone to do the dirty work and be successful. If his shooters can't shoot, then his rebounders have to rebound. And they have to make easy shots.
So far, that hasn't been the case. It was never more apparent than in Saturday's 67-57 loss to Oklahoma, in which the Sooners dominated play down the stretch not by making hard shots but by rebounding and then making the second ones.West Virginia managed to rebound every once in a while, but almost never made second shots. That's how last year's team thrived."How many shots did you see K.J. miss from three feet? We're getting shots. We're not making any,'' Huggins said. "And the flip side of it is we're not stopping anybody. Five consecutive possessions Oklahoma got second shots. Five. That's going to happen once in a while. It's not supposed to happen five consecutive times.''Combine all of that with an offense that can't make shots - the Mountaineers are last in the Big 12 in shooting percentage - and it's a huge problem. West Virginia (7-6, 0-1 Big 12) will try to correct some of those ills Wednesday night when it plays its first league road game against Texas (8-6, 0-1).
"We've always missed shots. I think everybody misses shots. Oklahoma missed shots,'' Huggins said. "They rebounded it. We missed shots, we didn't. When you don't make shots you've got to find other ways to score and we've always been very proficient in scoring on the offensive glass. And obviously we haven't done that."We've got to do a better job of keeping balls alive and finishing around the goal. We missed 11 shots inside of three feet. We've got to do a better job.''The problem with playing well inside and taking advantage of offensive rebounds becomes even more acute as the Mountaineers continue in conference play. Most of WVU's Big 12 opponents have at least one or two big men who thrive in those circumstances. Oklahoma doesn't, yet still managed to win far too many inside battles."I love Oklahoma's bigs, but they're not shot blockers. They're very skilled guys who shot the ball well against us with range and can put it on the floor,'' Huggins said. "But they're not like people we're going to play against here in the next few games that are among the leaders in blocked shots and changing shots. There's just not a lot of reasons why we miss the easy ones we miss.''
There are other problems, too, of course. The Mountaineers are not only last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, they're next-to-last in field goal percentage defense."When's the last time we've given up what we've given up? People are shooting 43 percent against us,'' Huggins said. "That hasn't happened."We're not rebounding the ball the way we typically rebound the ball. We're not scoring on offensive rebounds. We're not scoring on put-backs,'' Huggins said. "We got outscored 30-10 in the paint. That just hasn't happened.''Some of West Virginia's problems could be overcome by shooting the ball better, of course, but for the most part that hasn't happened. The Mountaineers did go through a stretch of about 12 minutes against Oklahoma when shots were falling, including six 3-pointers by freshman guard Terry Henderson."Terry was shooting pretty well and then he made the first one of the second half,'' Huggins said. "And then he had some pretty good looks and didn't get any down.''All in all, though, it's a multi-faceted problem. The Mountaineers have to shoot the ball better, rebound when they don't and play better defense. In other words, improve in just about every area.
"At the risk of sounding simplistic it would be nice if we made a shot once in a while,'' Huggins said. "We just haven't shot the ball very well at all. We haven't shot it very well from 3 and, in all honesty, we haven't guarded as well as we normally guard.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.