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not 900 State West Virginia Basketball

WVU coach Bob Huggins is stuck at 899 career wins after Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State.

MORGANTOWN — The party was all set.

The recorded rendition of John Denver singing “Country Roads” — West Virginia University’s school song — was dialed up on the WVU Coliseum’s sound system.

Invitations to 2,800 of Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins’ closest friends had been mailed.

A video presentation commemorating Huggins’ joining the extremely elite fraternity of coaches with 900 college victories was ready to be played on the Coliseum’s huge video board.

And yes, Huggins was going to speak after the historic victory, which undoubtedly would be the pinnacle of his highly successful career.

It was all planned. But one problem, one snafu, one fly in the ointment ruined all these best-laid plans.

Oklahoma State blew out all the candles. Perhaps it was because WVU left the cake out in the rain. Along with the Mountaineers’ defense.

As a result, Huggins had no choice but to lament his 379th career loss instead of celebrate his 900th career victory, thanks to WVU dropping an 85-80 decision to Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon.

Not only was it an unexpected loss, it was a defeat that clearly shouldn’t have happened. I mean, besides Huggins’ opportunity for a career moment, it was “Senior Day.” What more did the Mountaineers need to know?

Yet WVU’s players clearly didn’t show up. That was particularly true on defense. The Mountaineers allowed the Cowboys to shoot a sizzling 57.9% (33 of 57), mostly on drives to the rim that were barely contested.

Think it’s a coincidence that Baylor scored 50 points in the paint, compared to WVU’s 30? It wasn’t. Instead, it was clearly a lack of effort by the Mountaineers defensively. To Huggins credit, he made no attempt to sugarcoat the appalling lack of defense.

“We can’t guard,” he said during a postgame Zoom meeting. “Then I get crucified for telling the truth. We can’t guard. If a guy lets his man go, we don’t have a shot blocker back there.

“They were just running by us. They didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. They were just better than us today.”

Imagine how much better the Cowboys would have been if Cade Cunningham, the best true freshman in the country, would have played. But to be honest, it wasn’t about what Oklahoma State did on Saturday. Instead, it was all about what WVU didn’t do.

“We had no bounce ... zero bounce,” said Huggins. “I kept saying, ‘Fellas, we’ve got to play … we’ve got to play.’ It didn’t do any good.”

The troubling part is it’s reaching the point where there are serious doubts if the Mountaineers will pull out of this tailspin.

“I think anybody that has played 26 games should have it figured out,” said Huggins.

It appears the only thing the Mountaineers have figured out is they don’t like to play defense. So they didn’t.

“It has kind of been like that all season, honestly,” said sophomore guard Deuce McBride with uncommon candor. “It’s something we haven’t been good at all year.”

That’s one heck of an admission to make as a team prepares to advance to Big 12 tournament play, followed by the NCAA tourney. It certainly doesn’t bode well for the near future.

In the meantime, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Bobby Knight and Roy Williams will have to simply keep Huggins’ seat warm at the 900 victory table.

It shouldn’t have been that way. Instead of reaching that landmark event next week in Kansas City, Missouri, Huggins should have gotten to enjoy it in the homey confines of the Coliseum on Saturday.

What a shame it didn’t happen that way.