Asked at the start of his portion of Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference what could be done to turn around West Virginia’s season -- the team’s record currently sits at 7-6 and it is not inside the RPI top 100 -- Huggins had a response at the ready.
“Well, at the risk of sounding simplistic, it’d be nice if we made a shot once in a while,” the head coach said. “We just haven’t shot the ball very well. We haven’t shot it well from 3, and in all honesty, we haven’t guarded as well as we normally guard.”
But given another opportunity later in the call to discuss his team’s many issues, he harkened back to a refrain that he has consistently pointed to this season.
Other teams in his coaching career have struggled to make shots as well, he insisted again. But those teams made up for their deficiencies by defending and rebounding and getting as many easy baskets as possible. This WVU team has not proven capable of doing any of those things at the requisite level to find success.
“Oklahoma missed shots. They rebounded it. We missed shots, we didn’t,” Huggins said. “When you don’t make shots, you’ve got to find other ways to score, and we’ve always been very proficient at scoring off the offensive glass. Obviously, we haven’t done that.
“We’ve got to do a better job keeping balls alive and finishing around the goal. We missed 11 shots inside of three feet. We’ve got to do a better job. I love Oklahoma’s bigs, but they’re not shot-blockers. They’re very skilled guys that shot the ball well against us, shot it with range and can really put it on the floor. [Romero] Osby, particularly, just really hurt us on the offensive glass at the end of the game. But they’re not people like we’re going to play against in the next few games that are among the leaders in blocked shots and changing shots. There’s not a lot of reason we missed the easy ones that we missed.”
A key part of West Virginia’s post offense should be Deniz Kilicli. But the big man from Turkey has struggled this season, shooting less than 40 percent from the field. He has averaged only 4.1 points per game over the Mountaineers’ last seven outings.
That makes it much tougher for the senior to provide the sort of leadership Huggins has gotten from his veterans in the past.
“I think always in the past, we always had seniors step up,” Huggins said. “We lost Joe Alexander and people said, ‘What are you going to do?’ Well, Da’Sean Butler stepped up. We lost Da’Sean Butler, and Kevin Jones stepped up.
“I think our problem is we haven’t had anybody step up. I mean, in all honesty, how many shots did you see K.J. miss from three feet? I mean, we’re getting shots. We’re not making any. And the flipside 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, but it’s not supposed to happen five consecutive times.”
Two struggling teams will face off on Wednesday night when WVU makes its first-ever Big 12 road trip to face Texas in Austin. The Longhorns have sputtered to an 8-6 start and have lost two of their last three, including an overtime loss at Baylor to open Big 12 play on Saturday.
Still, Huggins said the game would be a challenge.
“[They’re] very talented. Extremely talented,” Huggins said. “I think [Texas coach] Rick [Barnes] has done a great job with a bunch of young guys. He’s got them playing like a bunch of veterans. They’re not playing like freshmen and sophomores.”
One bright spot for the Longhorns in their loss to BU was freshman guard Javan Felix, who scored 26 points and added nine assists. He will be a test, according to Huggins.
“He was terrific. He just really took over the early part of overtime,” the WVU coach said. “I thought he was terrific. He’s got a great knack to get the ball in the lane. He really made shots for them. He plays so strong with the ball.”