The Mountaineers, losers of three of their last four, did not practice Friday or Saturday, then held a light session Sunday before again taking a day off Monday. WVU practiced Tuesday, then held its typical session the day before a game today. It hosts Rutgers Thursday at 7 p.m., the first game in one week since it was defeated 55-54 at Pitt on a last-second 3-pointer.
"I am hoping this helps us," head coach Bob Huggins said. "We have been beat up. I thought Sunday they were very good. But we still need to make shots."
West Virginia (16-7, 5-5 Big East) has hit just 39.1, 20.0 and 35.8 percent from the floor in the three loses to Georgetown, Cincinnati and Pitt. And yet, in games again the then-No. 9 and No. 21 teams in the nation, the Mountaineers had chances to win inside the final seconds before losing each game by a single point. Only when it missed 40 of 50 shots against UC for its all-time worst performance from the field did it get beaten badly. That has been because of the defense, and with that area seeming operating solidly, the coaching staff turned attention to an offense that hasn't gotten significant points in the paint all year, and has lately been unable to gain quality looks anywhere inside the 3-point line, nor attack the basket and get to the line.
"We are going to try to score," Huggins said. "I thought that would be a novel idea, if we scored a couple goals. We spent a lot of time on half court offense. We probably did more talking than practicing (in the last week). … I think our defense has enabled us to be in every game. If I told you before we played Pitt we were going to shoot 40 percent from the line, 35 percent from the field, and get outrebounded and have a chance to win the game, that would be crazy. My fear is if we extend the defense too far and give up easy baskets can we get easy baskets in return. At this point in time I am not real confident we can."
And so, with a Rutgers (10-15, 2-10) lineup with good size and the ability to play a variety of teams close, WVU will attempt to get into better sets and execute at higher levels. It has a home court edge, and with the Knights being just 2-8 on the road – RU did defeat Pitt at the Petersen Events Center – and needing a win to salvage the latter portions of the season, the Mountaineers are hoping to be able to take advantage to beat a team that is significantly better than its record indicates.
The Knights have three starters 6-7 or taller, and with it getting healthier and adding to the bench, the test will be harder than many fans expect. Huggins noted that the floor is getting smaller in relation to players, who continue to be longer, taller and more athletic each season. Thus, teams are having to find creative ways to score, or risk getting into a series of close battles each contest. WVU is still searching for that mix of open looks and drives dashed with outside shooting and made free throws, and a Rutgers team that hasn't played well on the road but has very good talent and size could be a perfect game to attempt to freshen a stale offense.
"They are good; They got all their team back now," Huggins said. "They lost kids early. We have a lot of things to work on. I think it was (a good week). I think they understand what is in it for them in these games. It comes down to shooting and made shots sometimes."
Note: Huggins addressed the issue of fans saying that he has ridden players too hard of late: "Was my dad too rough on me?," he said. "What it comes down to is if, in the end, they know you care about them and you did what was in their best interests. For 30 years, that has kinda been the case."