Challenges

West Virginia's men's basketball team didn't respond to the challenges of Villanova or head coach Bob Huggins in their woeful effort on Wednesday night. Is the team tuning out the volume-filled exhortations of Huggins, who feels about losing the way Rush Limbaugh does about Hillary Clinton?

Huggins, who does not shy away from calling out shortcomings on his team, is also not above pointing the finger at himself. While admitting that his team was thoroughly outplayed and outhustled against the Wildcats, he also said, more than once, that he was at fault.

"It's my fault because I'm the guy in charge," he noted after the Big East lost that severely damaged his team's NCAA at-large chances. "I thought we were ready. I was excited. I thought we would play well. But they came out very physical with us, and we didn't respond to it. They took the game to us, and we didn't fight it very well."

Forced to call a timeout when the Mountaineers fell behind 10-2, Huggins jumped on more than one member of his team with the sort of fiery rant that is his trademark. Met with blank stares and little eye contact, however, it soon became apparent that nothing would shake WVU from its doldrums on that evening. Huggins apparently sensed it too, as he took a seldom-used seat on the bench for much of the contest.

"I kept thinking even when it was 10-2 at the first timeout that we were o.k.," Huggins reflected. "We were taking their best shot and now we gotta settle down and do what we do. But we never did."

Huggins has been searching for more aggressiveness and toughness from his team, on both ends of the court, ever since his arrival at his alma mater. However, it has only come in fits and starts, and from only certain members of the squad.

"I think our whole self-worth gets wrapped up in whether we make jump shots or not," Huggins noted. "We can't extend our defense - you saw what happened when we did. We just don't have the personnel. You can look through 800 some games I've coached, and this doesn't happen to us because we compete hard."

That certainly wasn't the case in the Villanova game, however. And it's clear that when West Virginia is off the mark with its shooting, it allows those misses to affect its play in other areas, such as defense and rebounding. While the Mountaineers are playing Huggins' preferred man-to-man look, it simply isn't able to defend players off the dribble 20 feet from the basket. WVU isn't quick enough or physical enough to keep those players from driving to the basket, and help from interior defenders simply leads to easy dump offs for lay-ups and dunks.

"We went through the scouting report and practice and a walk-through," Huggins said of preparation for the Villanova game. "Then we end up with two guys guarding one guy and another guy wide open. And the response I get is, ‘It wasn't my guy,' or ‘I didn't know that I would get screened.' Well, why not? We just worked on it?"

Huggins frustration with such excuses is clear, but it doesn't seem as if his attempts at correction are being met with much success. It's much the same story on the offensive end, where a lack of aggressiveness likewise harms West Virginia from getting closer to the hoop.

"We have no dribble penetration," Huggins said, which results in a plethora of jump shots from his team. If you take four jumpers to start the game and miss them, you think it's going to be a bad night. But if you get a rebound, a deflection, a runout, maybe you are 3-6, and you aren't that bad. But we didn't get an easy shot all night."

The question that hangs heavily now is simple. Have the Mountaineers tuned out their coach? Can they assert themselves more offensively? Will someone other than the pair of Joes drive to the basket more than once per game? The answers will determine West Virginia's NCAA fate, which now depends on at least one upset win and probably at least two in the Big East tournament.

"I told the team that our choices are this. You can sit around and feel sorry for yourself, or you can try to do something about it on Saturday against Providence," Huggins challenged.


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