Quick Learners

After West Virginia's two-overtime victory over Kansas State on Thursday night, the Mountaineers' veteran head coach Bob Huggins said that it his team lost on Saturday to Miami, the KSU win would mean nothing.

About 20 minutes into the game against the Hurricanes on Saturday at a pumped-up WVU Coliseum, it looked like that victory over the Wilcats would, in fact, be all for naught.

"We just didn't have any energy," Huggins said. "Sometimes you just have to fight through it."

WVU struggled defensively more than it had in a long, long time in the first half. Miami shot 50 percent from the field (15-of-30) and 50 percent from beyond the arc (6-of-12) in the first half. Despite the Hurricane's small lineup, WVU could only pull down one offensive rebound in the first half.

It was as if the Mountaineers were still feeling some jet lag in that first half and trailed going into the locker room 37-35.

But, then there was halftime.

And when the Mountaineers returned to the court following the break, it was as if the team that played in Wichita, Kan. a few nights ago returned.

In the second half, it was such a dominating performance the WVU students – who came out in full force by the way – had enough time to start singing Christmas jingles with more than 10 minutes to go in the game.

The Mountaineers would take a 60-40 lead after outscoring the Hurricanes 25-3 in the first nine minutes of the second half. Senior guard Truck Bryant made a stunning spin move past a defender and passed the ball to a wide open freshman forward Aaron Brown, who knocked down the three to make it a 20-point margin sending the crowd into an uproar forcing a timeout by UM coach Jim Larranaga.

It was as dominating a stretch as any this season for WVU including that impressive run at the end of the first half sparked by freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds vs. Akron on Nov. 28.

The Mountaineers would end up pulling out a 77-66 victory. "You can see the maturity level go up with us, and we're really starting to gain a lot of confidence," said senior forward Kevin Jones.

West Virginia has done a great job showing its potential at times this season like those first 10 minutes of the second half.

Despite such a young team, there is an opportunity for the Mountaineers to be really good not only in the future but this year, as well.

"I'd rather be up than down. I'd rather win than lose," Huggins said.

A month ago, I never expected WVU to be able to beat both Kansas State and Miami in a crucial non-conference stretch before the holidays.

These two games are big not just for the "w" that it gives the Mountaineers but for confidence, as well.

Following its exhibition loss to Northern Kentucky, I would bet to say many of the players on the roster believed this team would be 6-2 at this stretch. I know I didn't.

"I never looked that far ahead, but from where we were at I knew we were going to get better," Jones said. "I just didn't know at what point we would get better, but I'm glad it's coming early. The whole thing is to not go back to where we were and keep progressing."

Somehow, the Mountaineers, behind some masterful coaching by Huggins, are confident and playing well right now – a lot earlier than I ever expected.

It's not all good for West Virginia, though. There are still some glaring issues like defending guards, outside shooting, free-throw shooting and foul trouble that need to get fixed before Big East Conference play.

Right now, though, WVU looks just fine.


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