'No Excuse'

After a one-point loss to No. 9 Oklahoma State, a game in which West Virginia played arguably one of its best games of the season, Bob Huggins made a good point while analyzing his team.

"Honestly, we have too many guys that play to the competition level instead of going and trying to play every play as hard as they can play," he said.

That happened yet again Monday night in West Virginia's 80-69 loss at the hands of the Longhorns, a game in which - after two close road wins against a couple of the conference's lesser teams and a hard-fought loss to one of the league's best that possibly took a lot out of this group - the Mountaineers came out as flat as they have been all season.

"I don't want to make no excuses," said sophomore guard Eron Harris.

"Either we're going to keep going, or we're going to give up. And we're not going to give up. We won't lay down, we've got a long way to go."

One of the biggest things that have been clear up to this point in the season has been how much better this team has been than the one that finished an abysmal 13-19 a season ago and missed the postseason for the first time in more than a decade. The Mountaineers were playing hard, and fought back even when it trailed in games, players were doing a good job of knowing their roles and doing the things they did best and it looked like things could be turning around quicker than some had expected for this team.

Then Monday night came around, and West Virginia took a step back.

Both Huggins and the players made repeated references about the Mountaineers being outplayed and outmanned by the Longhorns. They were, and it was pretty obvious.

If Monday night was a test to see how well the Mountaineers would be able to bounce back after such a difficult loss to a team when they put so much into the game, Saturday's road test against Kansas State could be even more important for this team. How will they play after playing as poorly as they did? Can they start to right the ship and move forward in a positive direction?

The answers to those questions will likely decide WVU's fate from this point on the rest of the season. This is when you find out if this version of West Virginia's team has really come as far as many, including the Mountaineers, believe they have from last season.

If what Harris said after the game is true, then this is a different team. But the Mountaineers sang the same tune last season when things started to go wrong. It's one thing to talk about being a better team and not folding when slides start.

Now WVU has to prove that it's going to be able to shake this off and move back into the win column.

It needs to get back to doing what it was doing earlier. The Mountaineers aren't going to be successful if they don't shoot it well from beyond the arc. They won't play well when Harris doesn't attack and get to the free throw line. They won't win games if Devin Williams is having games where he doesn't grab a single rebound and only makes one of seven field goal attempts.

From the looks of things throughout this season, WVU's performance Monday night is the exception, not the rule. But last year's team had a similar slide that was kick-started by a similar flat performance in a winnable game.

That ended with a seven-game losing streak to close out a disappointing season. And if WVU wants to avoid a similar fate and continue playing – in any tournament – once the season is over, it will need to turn it around before it gets any worse.

It can't afford to give up. It can't afford to keep playing the way it did Monday.

Harris is right, there's no excuse.

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