MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It's easy for Bob Huggins to look back over West Virginia's first 17 games and recall the potential for a handful more wins than the eight the Mountaineers have in hand.The truth is, it should be easy for anyone to see.West Virginia lost a game it led by 15 points in the second half at Duquesne. The Mountaineers lost a very winnable game against Davidson because they couldn't make a shot. Their last three Big 12 games - against Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State - have come down to the last possession and they've won only one.What might not be quite so obvious is why, at least aside from the technical aspects of failing to make a shot or defending one. But Huggins knows what that is, too.
"In all honesty, we're a shot or a call away from winning three or four more games,'' Huggins said Tuesday. "The problem is, we don't make that happen.''Indeed, while specific failures or issues at key moments can be debated, Huggins' point cannot. More often than not, the difference between winning and losing those close games is not as much making a shot or executing a play, but finding a way to fight through adversity in order to do it.It may sound like a nuanced difference, but it's not."We don't play hard enough,'' said point guard Juwan Staten. "When you play hard, you make things happen. And that's the reputation [Huggins'] teams have always had. We aren't doing that.''West Virginia gets another chance tonight at the Coliseum, this time against one of the rare teams remaining on the schedule that the Mountaineers are favored to beat. TCU (9-9, 0-5 Big 12) arrives for a 7:30 p.m. game against WVU (8-9, 1-3) that tips shortly after 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.
In an effort to find those who will play hard and make things happen, Huggins has used virtually everyone on his roster. In the last two games, losses at Iowa State and Purdue, he gave more playing time to Matt Humphrey and Aaron Brown in an effort to find shooters who could make things happen in a smaller lineup. Even seldom-used sophomore Volodymyr Gerun got 12 minutes in Saturday's loss at Purdue."I don't think there's anyone,'' Huggins said, "who can honestly say they haven't had opportunities.''Expect Huggins to again try a smaller lineup tonight against TCU, which lost two of its big men to injury and tends to play small and deliberate. Even against high-scoring Iowa State, the Horned Frogs kept the score down, losing 63-50. TCU leads the Big 12 in scoring defense, but six times this season the Horned Frogs have also failed to get their own score out of the 40s."They're patient and they run good sets,'' Huggins said. "They don't just hold the ball. It's not like if they don't have something [early in the shot clock] they won't take it.''In TCU's four-guard lineup, 5-foot-11 point guard Kyan Anderson leads the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game, followed by 6-7 guard Garlon Green (10.9). The big man in the lineup is 6-8, 255-pound sophomore Devonta Abron, who averages 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds but plays less than 20 minutes per game. He splits time with 6-8, 250-pound senior Adrick McKinney, who averages 7.8 points and 6.9 rebounds.If nothing else, West Virginia might be healthier than it has been for a few games. Freshman guard Terry Henderson has been practicing after missing two games with a bad back and sophomore point guard Gary Browne is doing better after limping through the Purdue game on a sprained ankle.
Following tonight's game, West Virginia travels to Stillwater for a Saturday afternoon game against Oklahoma State, then returns home for the first of three Big Monday games this season on ESPN. The opponent this Monday is No. 3 Kansas.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.