A Small Measure of Success

West Virginia was on the right side of the final score and got back to .500 on Wednesday night against Oakland. But that is about all that should have been encouraging to the Mountaineers after a game that proved just how right Bob Huggins has been all along.

It was easy to brush off Huggins' comments in recent weeks as that of a coach trying desperately to motivate his team. While most had been focused on WVU's abysmal shooting performances, the veteran head coach insisted he had teams that had shot worse in the past but managed to win anyway.

Instead, he said then, he was more troubled by issues in other areas -- inconsistent defense, poor rebounding, a lack of crisp passes. Those were things the Mountaineers could control, he insisted, even if shots weren't falling.

Oddly enough, it took a game in which West Virginia shot the ball exceedingly well (by this season's standards, at least) to prove him right.

Despite a 52.9 percent accuracy mark from the field (a number WVU has managed in only 16 other games in Huggins' six seasons in Morgantown), the Mountaineers watched helplessly as Oakland's Travis Bader fired an open 3-pointer with a chance to tie the game.

The nation's leader in 3-point field goals made misfired, though, and West Virginia eked out a 76-71 win in a game it simply could not afford to lose.

This was not a performance to feel good about, though. One could hear that sentiment in Huggins' voice in his postgame press conference.

"This team is not consistent," he said. "We'll have somebody do a really good thing, and then they do a really stupid thing.

"They did it last year. Let's be honest: they did the same thing last year. We had games where we were playing like crazy, and we get it going the way we want it to go, and all of a sudden, they do stupid things. That is what we have to fix. We have to continue to play."

The box score backed him up. The Mountaineers committed 15 turnovers, helping Oakland to a 17-8 edge in points off turnovers. They were beaten on the glass 34-32, and gave up a staggering 14 offensive boards to the Golden Grizzlies.

While Bader and the Oakland team's trifectas drew much of the attention, the visitors had plenty of luck inside as well, scoring 24 points in the paint to WVU's 26. Indeed, in all the categories Huggins' teams typically dominate, Oakland at least forced a stalemate.

For this night, it was enough to beat the Golden Grizzlies, who fell to 4-8 with the loss.

But against better opponents, or on nights when WVU doesn't make almost 53 percent of its shots, victory is going to be difficult to obtain if the Mountaineers don't start to play Huggins' style -- and do so consistently.

"We get things going, and then we have a hard time with prosperity," Huggins bemoaned after the game.

If West Virginia's players think Wednesday's win was a sign that things are beginning to turn around for the better -- if they think this is truly "prosperity" -- then perhaps Huggins' message still hasn't quite taken hold. After all, this was a victory, but not much more.


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