When West Virginia loses, it's usually due to one or both of them. On Monday night in Waco, it was both. West Virginia shot the ball poorly, and rebounded it abysmally on the defensive end. Those shortcomings allowed Baylor to go on a 26-7 run over a 6:43 stretch of the second half, turning an eight point Mountaineer lead into an 11-point deficit that proved too much to overcome.
West Virginia shot just 37% for the game -- its second consecutive outing below the 40% mark -- giving it no answers to the Bears' scoring run. Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Elijah Macon were pretty much all the offense the Mountaineers could muster, as the rest of the lineup was 7-26. Included in that was another MIA performance from Daxter Miles, who took just three shots in 17 minutes, and a just plain missing tag for James Bolden, who continued to be nailed to the bench for all but three minutes of action.
Still, such shooting numbers have been seen from WVU before. When they do occur, the Mountaineers have often been able to make up for them by rebounding relentlessly. In this game -- and truth be told, for much of the year -- WVU has been more listless than relentless on the defensive boards.
"We've had a lot of days where we didn't shoot it well but we got second shots," head coach Bob Huggins said after his team was wiped off the glass. "My whole message to them is we can't play their game. We can't play half court. There were some factors that made that hard to do, but there's no excuse for getting outrebounded 42-23 (actually 43-23). If we don't rebound it we are going to struggle. We have to get more shots than the opposition."
West Virginia was ok, if not great, on the offensive boards. It was on the other end where the troubles, which have been evident for much of the Big 12 season, were again highlighted.
"We didn't put a body on them and they went flying by us," Huggins said.
He also could have added "and watched them" because West Virginia's work when shots go up often includes a player or two doing just that. The Mountaineers perhaps grew used to that last year while Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton gobbled up the leavings, but this year they simply don't have that sort of strength or athletic ability. They have to team rebound, and everyone has to get involved. Against Baylor, "everyone" amounted to about a player and a half.
"Our leading rebounder was Jevon Carter who is six foot one. You'd think some of our six foot nine guys would get some. Elijah gets four, Brandon [Watkins] got one more than Jerry's statue, and Sags got two. JC got more than our three bigs put together. That's totally unacceptable."
WVU also got just one rebound from Maciej Bender and two Lamont West, who were physically overwhelmed and reduced to just swiping and reaching at the ball. That was no match for determined efforts to actually grab and secure the rock, and it cost the Mountaineers more than a couple of possessions. Three rebounds in a combined 39 minutes just isn't going to cut it.
As for the scoring, it's a familiar refrain from Huggins.
"We have to do a much better job of scoring in transition. We settled too much. We don't drive it and pitch it. We don't drive it at the rim."
He could have added West Virginia's confounding inconsistency with interior passing. It began the game turning the ball over on interior passing attempts, then suddenly began snaking it around with efficiency. For much of the second half, though, that movement disappeared, as did the Mountaineer lead.
This late in the season, there might not be a "fix" available for shooting, but for rebounding, a certain amount of "want to" could close the gap enough to make the difference between wins and going home. With tournament games looming, it's now or never.
"We have to rebound from this," Huggins said without a trace of irony. "If we are going to win Friday we have to rebound the ball."