Late Saturday, WVU guard James “Beetle” Bolden tried to offer reasons for yet another Mountaineer second-half collapse.
The sophomore had just scored 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting against his boyhood favorite team. Yet that team, Kentucky, had rallied from a 17-point deficit to post an 83-76 victory at the Coliseum in Morgantown.
Bolden, a native of Covington, Kentucky, tried to speak of turnovers. UK had 11 in the first half, but only five in the second.
“We could have turned them over just like that in the second half, it was just…”
Then the sophomore’s voice lowered.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We just fell apart.”
Indeed, there seem to be few answers to the many questions about West Virginia’s slide, which now includes four losses in the last five games after reaching a No. 2 national ranking.
“I’m not really sure,” said WVU big man Sagaba Konate when asked what’s been happening.
Mountaineer leader Jevon Carter was also a man of few words, admitting the Wildcats were athletic. And then when asked what coach Bob Huggins said to the team after the loss, Carter offered but this:
Included in that message seems to be possible changes for West Virginia. Huggins was asked how his team can survive when the opposition focuses on Carter.
“Someone else has to make shots for once,” said the coach. “Here’s the honest-to-God truth: We have a guy [Daxter Miles] who was two for his last 22… But for some reason only known to him, he thinks he ought to still shoot threes.”
He continued by praising Kentucky.
“They’re better than we are,” Huggins said. “I mean, they’re more talented than we are, so we have to do things right. Our shot selection has to be really good. We have to make a conscious effort to block out, get people off the glass.
“When Sags got in foul trouble, that’s when they made their run. Our guys on the perimeter can’t keep turning guys loose and saying, ‘Get ‘em Sags.’ They have to actually sit their [butt] down and guard a little bit, which we haven’t done.”
It wasn’t just Miles that Huggins criticized, saying UK “manhandled our forwards.”
The stat sheet, by the way, shows Konate leading the team in rebounding, averaging 8.1 per game. Yet the second-leading rebounder is 6-foot-2 Carter, who is averaging 5.1. West Virginia’s average rebounding advantage is now just plus-3.8.
But back to Miles, who has hit on but 24.7 percent of his 97 3-point attempts this season. Huggins suggested Bolden, who averages 17.3 minutes, might usurp some of the senior guard’s time — if not his starting job. Bolden has converted 42.7 percent of his 110 3-point tries.
“He’s really been our spark off the bench,” said the Mountaineer coach of Bolden. “I guess we probably need to start him and play him more minutes.”
The 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore was asked how his team can turn around the slide.
“Come in and practice,” Bolden said. “Get ready for the next one. This is behind us now. We have to focus on the Big 12 now. We still have a shot at that. We just have to come ready and prepare for each and every game like it’s our last. Just have to get ready.”
WVU, now 16-5, will return to Big 12 play with a 7 p.m. Wednesday game at 11-9 Iowa State. The Cyclones lost to No. 22 Tennessee 68-45 in Ames on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.