Three days after West Virginia's home loss to Pitt, a post-game observation still rankles.

Kevin Jones said it. So too did Deniz Kilicli. And the more you think about it, the more puzzling, and frustrating, it becomes.

"It's sad to say, but on our court, in front of our fans, we really didn't compete like we should," Kilicli said.

"We didn't compete as hard in the second half as we did in the first," Jones seconded.

What? Against Pitt? It might be understandable if West Virginia came out with a lackluster effort against Oakland or VMI, although some would argue that every game demands maximum competitive levels. But a Big East game? With conference standings at stake? And against Pitt? A top-five team? That's impossible to understand.

At least the Mountaineers who uttered those observations know it shouldn't have happened.

"You can't do that. It's not what you should do, not in any game," Kilicli said. "You're playing in front of a sold-out crowd. I don't really understand it. I'm mad at myself and mad at my teammates. On our court, we should have done the opposite. But we didn't do it."

Unfortunately, that's only the first step in fixing the problem. And when players admit they don't know why things happened, or how to fix them, there's not a lot of confidence in believing a solution can be found.

At this point, it's important to note that Kilicli and Jones shouldn't be singled out for a lack of effort. This isn't a call for benchings, or fire and brimstone statements. It's just wonderment that on the biggest of stages prior to tournament time, and with a halftime lead, West Virginia didn't compete as hard as it could against its most bitterly-disliked foe.

Head coach Bob Huggins, who has, more than once this year, said that he has no idea what his team is thinking at times, doesn't know either. He was quick to point out, however, one of the many lapses that plagued his team. To no surprise, that occurred in the second half.

"I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but if you and me are guarding a guy and he doesn't have the ball, there's a problem," Huggins explained. "Somebody shouldn't be there. It's a two- or three-point game and Gilbert Brown is standing over there by himself, and we're doubling a guy without the ball. You can't do those things. You can't make those kind of mistakes. You can't let them get two, three, four shots every time."

Some of those extra chances were attributable to Pitt's superior athleticism. The Panthers simply have more players that jump quickly and have longer reach, and that means they are going to get to more balls. Also contributing was the fact that West Virginia's two best rebounders, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla, were on the bench with foul trouble for stretches of the half. But that doesn't cover all of them. WVU was simply outworked in some situations, and the result was a loss in what could have been another NCAA-resume building win.

Huggins, in a very pointed message that hasn't gotten much attention, described the difference in Pitt's play in the second half versus that of his own squad's.

"It's admrable in today's times," he stated plainly. "You've got guys that think they are going to go play in 'the league'. They've got guys that just play, man. They just play to win. They don't force shots, they don't do things they can't do. It's kind of refreshing actually."

Of course, Huggins wasn't refreshed by Pitt winning on West Virginia's home court, and quickly noted such. But his point was clear. If West Virginia is going to win enough games to qualify for the NCAA tournament, it has to follow the lead of last year's squad, which put aside pro aspirations. It has to do what it can do, not what it can't. It has, very simply, to compete.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories