Out Of Answers

West Virginia's players had a surprisingly short stay in the locker room after Saturday's 67-57 loss in the program's first-ever Big 12 game against Oklahoma. One reason? Head coach Bob Huggins seemingly doesn't know what else to say.

From the time the final horn sounded to the time Jabarie Hinds walked into a room of waiting reporters to deliver his postgame remarks, only about eight minutes had elapsed. There was no lengthy speech, no moment when Huggins saw fit to tear the paint off the walls in frustration.

Huggins didn't directly say it, but one of the reasons may have been uncertainty as to whether the message would take anyway.

"I guess we don't have the greatest listeners in the world," the head coach said dryly.

He pointed out that he had instructed his players during a huddle how to handle the coming OU pressure on an inbounds pass. Instead, a player ignored his instructions -- indeed, he did the opposite. The way the team was set to defend Oklahoma's Steven Pledger was another example -- players didn't listen to what they had been told during a full week of preparation, Huggins said.

And truly, until this team listens, do any of this team's other problems -- which are seemingly growing in number by the day -- matter even in the slightest?

Sure, West Virginia can't shoot. It made only 24.1 percent of its shots in the second half and 7-of-30 (23.3 percent) of its 2-point shots for the entire game.

But Huggins continues to assert his teams have won despite shooting problems in the past. Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler had off days, he recalled. But they made up for those problems by playing stingy defense and rebounding the ball.

This team? Instead, it lost the rebounding battle overall, gave up 15 second-chance points (WVU managed only eight), allowed Oklahoma to score 30 of its 67 points in the paint (another nine came at the free throw line) and wilted in the face of adversity down the stretch.

"The truth of the matter is that they just wanted to win more than we did," Huggins said.

The coach repeatedly claimed personal responsibility, but his burden for those sorts of issues begins and ends with the decision to recruit the players in question.

He can't make them box out, can't make them listen in practice or in the huddle, can't make them the sort of scrappy players that characterized his earlier years in Morgantown. Those traits simply must come from within the players.

There is a strong temptation to simply dismiss this team as too weak, too flawed to compete down the stretch. It's easy to see this season being all but over now. But that's an oversimplification, a way to let these players off the hook for their performance in Big 12 play.

No, this team has shown too many flashes of being legitimately good to just dismiss them and allow them to coast for the remaining three months.

Terry Henderson showed he can be the shotmaker these Mountaineers desperately need, but frustrated later by repeatedly blowing defensive assignments.

Aaric Murray kept WVU in the game early, but disappeared offensively down the stretch and appeared to be winded late, allowing a pivotal OU putback by failing to box out.

Dominique Rutledge has occasionally shown himself capable of imposing his will with his athleticism but has also frustrated with poor decision-making.

Huggins' job now is to ensure these players learn to accentuate the positives they have -- and, more importantly, avoid the many deficiencies in their individual games.

That's all he can do. He can't make them want it more.

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