First, the good. After a tentative start in which the Mountaineers missed a couple of good chances close to the basket due to apparent intimidation, WVU battled hard for the rest of the game. True, WVU didn't shoot well at all (30.3% for the game) and was smacked on the boards by a margin of 52-33, but it wasn't due to lack of effort. Head coach Bob Huggins noted that the Mountaineers competed well, but were simply outmatched on the glass by taller, longer players who worked just as hard as WVU did.
UConn's length and strength inside proved to be a bad matchup for West Virginia, but the thinking here is that no other team in the league will be a worse matchup for WVU than the Huskies.
That's not to say that the results of this can can, or should, be ignored. West Virginia was fundamentally unsound in boxing out, and simply didn't do well in putting bodies on Huskies crashing the boards, especially from the weak side. Part of that was was simply lack of execution, but part was also unsound defensive strategy. Too many times, WVU defenders coming from the weak side tried to block shots instead of sealing off rebounding lanes, and UConn players from the back side of the play were able to exploit those gaps for offensive rebounds (20 in all) and 18 second chance points.
"we just didn't box out as good as we were supposed to," Wellington Smith said. "We didn't do the things we were taught to do. The coaches tell me to go get [blocks] if I can, but if not then I shouldn't jump. I have to be smarter than that, and not jump when I don't have the chance to get the block.
Fellow front liner Cam Thoroughman agreed.
"It's key whenever we go for blocks that we get the weakside coming down and get those guys boxed out. If you leave and there's no one to slide down, you give up a lot of offensive rebounds. We have to work on that, and get another guy coming down. UConn is a great team, and they have two guys in there that are the two best big men we have played this year."
WVU also has to avoid foul trouble, which again plagued its continuity, expecially on offense. With Da'Sean Butler, Truck Bryant and John Flowers all saddled with two fouls in the first half, West Virginia shuttled players and positions throughout the game. As a consequence, the Mountaineers, who are still trying to find consistent offensive rhythm in the halfcourt, had some issues in getting a consistent attack going out of their sets.
"I started off at four, then I have to sub in for Truck. I have to figure out who I'm guarding, who's guarding me, and what position I'm in if we are playing zone. It can be tough to get a feel for where you are, and I think that disturbed us."
Finally, shooting. As Huggins noted, WVU is not going to win many games when Alex Ruoff and Da'Sean Butler go 9-29. That puts pressure on those two players, but the fact is that no other Mountaineer is ready to be a go-to guy at this point. Sure, there are flashes. Truck Bryant and Devin Ebanks had plays where they showed they can score against the league's best. But the consistency isn't there yet, and until it is, the veteran pair will have to carry the load.
Fortunately, none of these issues are uncorrectable, other than the size disadvantage. West Virginia, which had been dominating on the boards against similar sized-foes, got a taste of that against the Huskies. And while some of those boards were simple matters of length and strength, others were not. WVU gave up 15 offensive rebounds in the first half (UConn had one more board on that end than it did on defense in the opening 20 minutes) -- a number that can't all be attributed to the Huskies' physical advantages. The Mountaineers, as a team, simply didn't battle enough or execute well enough to pull out what could have been an outstanding home win.
The season, of course, doesn't go down the drain with this loss. West Virginia showed that it has the ability to play toe-to-toe with the league's best. It will simply have to get a bit more production in order to get over the hump.