Firmly On The Bubble

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins hopped up on the post-game press conference stage with a crisp post-game stat sheet. He had a look of disgust I had not seen in his time as WVU's head coach.

He was ticked off and frustrated. He had trouble keeping his composure at times. It was clear if Huggins was 10 to 15 years younger, he might have taken this opportunity to vent with more fury.

"We're this far away from being really good. This far away," he said with his thumb and index finger spread an inch or two apart.

He had reason for this frustration after his team blew a 13-point second-half lead in a 77-74 loss to No. 23 Louisville at home. WVU has now lost five of its last six games and is firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble.

WVU had a sense of urgency today that it didn't have vs. Notre Dame earlier in the week. It seemed like the Mountaineers knew it could beat the Fighting Irish and didn't need to try as hard.

On Saturday, however, the Mountaineers played like an underdog despite being a 3.5-point favorite to the Cardinals.

It just wasn't enough. And that maybe more than anything is the most difficult part for this team to deal with.

West Virginia's players were so disappointed with how it finished the Notre Dame game – and rightly so. It seemed to bother them more than many other finishes to games, even losses, when the media talked with them after the defeat.

The Mountaineers knew an added sense of urgency. They had effort that wasn't there a few nights ago. They didn't have the execution.

A foul on freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds led to free throws from guard Chris Smith a 4-point lead with less than 1:30 to play.

Following a WVU timeout, senior guard Truck Bryant missed a layup, but senior forward Kevin Jones grabbed the loose ball and went back up for the layup and the foul. That made it 75-74 with less than a minute to go.

Louisville guard Kyle Kuric missed a shot, and it was rebounded by the Mountaineers. On the other end with no timeouts, point guard Gary Browne tried to find Jones inside, but the ball was stolen away and Browne had to foul Kuric.

After two free throws, Bryant missed a three at the buzzer to lose 77-74.

Jones said Louisville's pressure made WVU panic. Both Jones and Kilicli blamed the loss on themselves, as well. Kilicli had a technical late in the first half that put the Mountaineers in a huge hole.

WVU missed out on another huge opportunity at home.

This 0-2 stretch in front of the friendly fans at the WVU Coliseum hurts a lot. There isn't a lot of hope left after a stretch of five losses in six games.

Jones called this game a "must win" on Friday, and he was right. With a loss, the Mountaineers were really going to have to fight to make the NCAA tournament just two seasons removed from a Final Four run.

Hope is still alive, but there's a lot of work that must be done if West Virginia wants to make sure it's in the NCAA tournament field at the end of the regular season.

Today didn't help at all, though, for the confidence of this team after such a stretch filled with struggles.

The NCAA tournament is a long way away if WVU keeps playing like this and making mistakes like it has lately. It might be a year away.


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