One's tempted to look, just to see how much of a wreck it really is. The Mountaineers didn't, however, under instruction from head coach Bob Huggins. The numbers were daunting: a school-record low 20 percent shooting (10 of 50), misses on 21 of 22 3-pointers, the second-lowest scoring total in Coliseum history and the worst home loss to an unranked foe in 78 years. West Virginia, outrebounded by 19 in what felt like much more, never led and was never truly in the game against a team that remained under .500 despite the 62-39 win.
"That was the worst loss of my career," Huggins told his team afterward. "I've had teams that didn't shoot it. But we scored with defense and rebounding. They beat us every way there is to beat us. We're just not tough enough."
And so the game, completely ignored in the film room, is still being used as both motivation and a reminder of what can be if WVU continues to play soft. The team held an elongated meeting in which players' thoughts and ideas spilled out, as well as other aspects. With a 15-6 record and 10 games left, West Virginia likely needs to win six to vie for an NCAA bid. It was in the same position last year, only to finish the regular season 20-8 and be left out of the tournament despite a 1-1 record in the Big East postseason. Today's 7 p.m. game at Providence is essentially a must-win, as the Mountaineers also have to face top 20 Pitt on the road. A loss to the Friars would likely lead to a four-game skid.
"We've put ourselves in a hole," Huggins said. "I don't know about them but I've been in holes before. You just have to fight your way out."
Providence nearly got a major confidence boost. It forced Notre Dame into overtime on the road before losing 81-74. The Friars (12-8, 3-5 Big East) have lost three in a row, making tonight's tilt flirt with elimination status. The loser, barring a run and several upsets down the stretch, will be out of NCAA contention. It's a surprising thought after a 15-4 start for WVU that could have easily been 16-3 or better. A two-game skid perhaps shouldn't usher in such doubts, but that's reality with six of the final 10 contests away from home, two games left against Pitt and road battles with Connecticut and Villanova. WVU will also host Providence on Feb. 23.
"We have a lot of games left and a lot of opportunities left," Huggins said. "You look at it as an opportunity realizing we have put ourselves in a hole. We've dug out of holes before. … We've got to try to limit their open looks. If we give them open looks they are going to make them. They looked good against Notre Dame. A lot of guys can make shots and they have good balance."
Geoff McDermott leads Providence with 11 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-8, 235-pounder plays longer than he is, and his strength on the interior could be a problem. West Virginia, however, has typically handled teams with PC's three-guard ands two-forward looks, and with 6-11 forward Randall Hanke the lone other starter taller than 6-4, the Mountaineers should have increased chances for rebounds. The Friars' three guards all average at least 11.6 points in one of the most balanced line-ups. Their smallish stature should allow players like Joe Alexander – expected to make a second consecutive start after not being on the floor for the beginning of three straight games because of a groin injury – Da'Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff to get good looks overtop.
WVU has lost seven of its last nine at Providence, which leads the all-time series 11-10. The Mountaineers are 5-1, however, in the last six with the majority of games being played at the Coliseum. The Friars are 8-1 at home, with wins over Rutgers, South Florida and Connecticut. The lone loss was 88-75 to Seton Hall. Huggins has never faced Providence or its head coach, Tim Welsh. West Virginia still leads the Big East, and ranks fifth nationally, in scoring margin despite the 23-point loss to Cincinnati.