Introspective Huggins Breaks Down KU Defeat

By John Antonik via

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins‘ postgame press conference following his team’s 71-66 loss to Kansas late Monday night began with a simple question. What changed from a first half that saw your team lead by as many as 16 points to what happened in the second half?

Huggins, hunched over at the dais and speaking in a soft monotone, went through a litany of tactical errors his team made in the second half – from its inability to pass the basketball on offense to failing to cover Kansas’ best shooter on defense.

On two occasions in the second half, the Jayhawks’ 48 percent 3-point shooter Svi Mykhailiuk was inexplicably left alone for wide open 3s that quickly sliced West Virginia’s double-digit lead in half.

“We gave Mykhailiuk a 3 from the corner in the first half, and I took the guy out,” Huggins noted. “We had a timeout and I said, ‘Please explain to me what you don’t understand about stay with him; do not give him and open look from the corner.’ We go in and talk about it at halftime, and they go out and leave him. I don’t know. I wish I knew.”

The root cause of West Virginia’s offensive struggles is not its inability to make shots, but rather its inability to pass the basketball.

Poor shooting teams can still score when the ball moves and the defense moves with it.

How many times have we heard Huggins say this year that he was unhappy with the way his team played offensively before looking up at the scoreboard and noticing how many points his team had scored?

Multiple times, if my mind’s not failing me.

Against Kansas, there were several instances when the basketball went to places it had no business going when West Virginia was comfortably ahead and primed to put the 10th-ranked Jayhawks away.

“We came down and threw the ball on the wing to one of our forwards, who should have never had the ball on the wing. Never. And we threw it to him anyway,” Huggins explained. “Our guard, who had the ball, was told not to throw it to him there. Then, we got him on the same side and he’s not even looking for (the ball), and it didn’t quite hit him in the head, but it would have had he not gotten his hand up in the air.

“I can’t explain why when they’re not told ‘don’t do that,’ they do it.”

Huggins then moved on to basketball’s basics.

“Our game is about this: you either throw it to the bad guys and you reverse it to the good guys – because everybody’s got guys that are not near as good and we’re loaded with ’em – or you throw it to the good guys and you have the bad guys screen for them and you run them to the ball so that you switch sides of the floor and you get a little movement before,” he said.

“Or,” he continued, “you take somebody who can beat people off the bounce and you create. That’s basketball.”

But the primary point Huggins wanted to get across in the wee hours of Monday night had nothing to do with basketball strategy or tactics.

It dealt with a mindset that he’s been trying to get across to his young basketball team. He learned this 18 years ago when Cincinnati spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country and everybody was coming after his Bearcats with double-barreled shotguns.

He began by telling a story about being comfortable as opposed to being uncomfortable.

“Have you ever heard of the analogy of the guy playing golf and he shoots like 90 most of the time?” Huggins said. “So, he goes out and shoots 37 on the front (nine) one day. What does he say? ‘This isn’t like me. I don’t know what this is today, but this ain’t like me.’

“Then, he goes out and shoots a 59 on the back and he said, ‘I told you. This is more like me.’ Why? Because he’s comfortable. He’s comfortable shooting a 59. He’s not comfortable shooting a 37. We probably weren’t very comfortable being No. 2 in the country.”

Huggins said he gathered his players together the other day and warned them what was headed their way if they weren’t mentally prepared for it.

“I told them in the practice facility, ‘Look up at the crow’s nest up there. What do you think about that? It’s pretty high, huh?” he said. “Well, it’s kind of where you are. You’re one rung from the top.

“It’s not hard to climb up there, but, boy, that fall is hard. I told them, ‘that’s about what we’re getting ready to do. Our preparation wasn’t what it needed to be.'”

His basketball team had worked so hard to get to where it was just eight days ago on Monday, Jan. 8, when the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 in the country and owned the nation’s longest winning streak at 15.

Those things tend to get everyone’s attention, including the guys wearing the other uniforms.

Texas Tech demonstrated that by the way they celebrated on their home floor after coming back to defeat the Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon.

You could tell Kansas, the team with an 18-4 record against top five teams since 2004 and 85 wins against ranked opponents under veteran coach Bill Self, the team that has won 62 times on ESPN Big Monday and the team gunning for a record 14th-straight Big 12 championship this year, wanted desperately to beat West Virginia in Morgantown last night.

You could tell that by the way the Jayhawk players reacted when the game was over and the look on their faces when they left the floor.

You could tell that by the delight Kansas writers took in reporting the reactions and the tweets of disappointed West Virginia fans.

Not a single player wearing this year’s Kansas Jayhawk uniform had ever won a basketball game in the WVU Coliseum – until last night. That’s another check in the box for a program that has checked so many boxes through the years.

Next up for the Mountaineers are the Texas Longhorns this Saturday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum.

Just like Texas Tech and Kansas, the Longhorns will be bringing their double-barreled shotgun as well.