Time To Grow Up

West Virginia had its Monday night game at No. 17 UConn in hand. Until it didn't.

It looked so good for so long for the Mountaineers. Like a poker player dealt a poor hand, they worked through a difficult first half with guile and cunning, somehow overcoming foul trouble to both Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli to lead almost wire-to-wire.

And with Kilicli making tough shots and Bryant forcing the Huskies to account for another perimeter shooting threat, things looked even better to start the second half.

After UConn briefly took a one-point lead, WVU went on a roll. Kevin Jones did what Kevin Jones does, making plays on the offensive glass and scoring easy putbacks.

Connecticut, a team with some apparent leadership issues (as some publicized comments from Shabazz Napier showed), started to melt down. Jim Calhoun picked up a technical foul. Kilicli made a sweeping left-hand hook. Suddenly, the Mountaineers had a double-digit lead.

This looked for all the world like a West Virginia team continuing to show that it was coming into its own; that Saturday's win over then-No. 9 Georgetown was no fluke. Heck, even Jones -- typically as humble and soft-spoken as they come -- appeared for all the world to be talking a bit of trash to UConn's highly-touted freshman Andre Drummond.

But a funny thing happened on the way to WVU staking its claim to a 4-1 start to Big East play and back-to-back wins over nationally-ranked teams: the Huskies woke up.

Drummond, long knocked for playing without emotion or excitement, snapped in a major way, dunking the ball on the heads of just about anyone in the Mountaineers' blue road jerseys. Jeremy Lamb started making jump shots from all over the floor.

And West Virginia wilted.

Perhaps that could be expected from the youngsters and role players. But it had to be disheartening to Bob Huggins to see his two seniors' games devolve so quickly.

Jones became a victim of his own success. He made so many first half 3-pointers that he began to play more like he did as a junior last season -- far too content to settle for jumpers, far too rarely in position for the weak side offensive rebound and putback (or, to be honest, the midrange jumper) that is his bread and butter.

Bryant, the epitome of a "Jeckyll and Hyde" player, was again utterly ineffective. He was 2-of-13 from the field and had only one assist.

Huggins blamed his team's unwillingness to run offensive calls, and that could be part of things. But no one was capable of making a play on their own, and the defense that had forced so many turnovers and generally frustrated UConn disappeared.

Just past the midpoint of the regular season, WVU still is obviously a flawed team. It's capable of competing with anyone on any given night, but to beat the nation's best, almost every conceivable factor must conspire in the Mountaineers' favor.

There is obviously still much growing up to be done among the team's freshmen. But the upperclassmen must avoid foul trouble and the pitfalls of poor decision making as well.

Just when it looked like West Virginia was about to take a step forward, it reminded us just how badly growing pains can hurt. They may finish their time in the Big East without a win at UConn, falling to 0-9 in the Nutmeg State against the Huskies.

That bruise to the program's pride matters little, but if WVU hopes to make noise in March, it will need to learn a lesson from this, the ninth of those defeats. As Huggins said after the game, it's time for his players to grow up.


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