"We just didn't make any shots," Huggins said as he and the Mountaineers prepared to depart for Oxford, Miss. and a date with Ole Miss on Wednesday night. "We need to execute a little better, but what it came down to was the way they stacked people around the rim. When they did that, we had to make some outside shots."
Huggins, never one to back down from a challenge, believed that his team might have done just that in the second half. When outside shots aren't falling, the usual antidote is to go to the basket but the Mountaineers were either out of control (point guard Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant) or hesitant to do so. The latter may have stemmed from the team's free throw shooting woes, which are beginning to be of serious concern. The Mountaineers are hitting an anemic 60.6% from the free throw line, and have no one that has tried more than two free thorws making more than 78% of their tries.
"They are 23-25 from the foul line and we are 10-17," Huggins pointed out. "Then you lose your aggression because you don't want to go to the foul line. I thought we got a little tentative. We have to be more aggressive."
That should be an area in which Huggins has little problem in creating the desired effect, but even the Hall of Fame-bound coach can't will shots into the hoop. That's something the players will have to do.
As for Wednesday's foe, Huggins sees a big challenge in the backcourt.
"Their guards are terrific," he said of the Rebels. "They ball screen a lot, and they get it in the lane. They are very good in transition, and they can just run by you. They try to play multiple defenses to keep you off balance."
"I think Andy Kennedy has a great way with people," Huggins said of his former assistant's strengths. "He is really good with the players – absolutely terrific. I thought he would be able to recruit for us [at Cincinnati]. A lot of guys have coached this game and don't have the feel for it that Andy does.
"He did a great job at Cincinnati. Those are my guys, and I certainly followed them and watched them when they were on TV. He did an incredible under very difficult circumstances. I wasn't surprised that he wasn't kept at Cincinnati, because I knew the inner workings there. He was hired at Mississippi the same day I was hired at Kansas State."
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Despite being a Huggins "disciple", the second-year Mountaineer head coach believes that Kennedy has forged his own path.
"He is his own guy and coaches his own personality," Huggins noted. "Defensively, Mississippi does things that we have done for a long time, but he will take his guys and do what's best for them. That's the mark of a good coach. There are too many guys who try to make their guys fit the system rather than making the system fit their players."
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West Virginia continues to search for another shooter to complement Alex Ruoff, who has had two sub par games out of the last four. A rather unexpected candidate, Josh Sowards, has been unavailable for duty due to a nasty ankle sprain that he suffered in WVU's exhibition game against Mountain State.
"I don't think Josh is totally healed up," said Huggins when asked about his availability for duty. "An MRI showed a bone bruise. You can play on it, but it's tender and sore. I don't think he can play unless he's full go. If he is, I have no reservations about putting in the game. He is without question our best shooter."
Sowards availability could also hinge on his ability to pick up what he has missed in lost practice time, and also on improving his defensive skills. That is difficult to do, of course, when hampered by injury, so Sowards could be facing a lengthy process before returning to the floor.