Down, But Rarely Out

Time and time again, WVU head coach Bob Huggins has seen his team dig itself a into massive hole early in games. While that is a source of frustration, he has at least seen the same players find a way to claw back into almost every contest.

With the lone exception of a 77-62 New Year's Day loss at Purdue, the Mountaineers have managed to claw their way back into every contest -- and even win a few -- in which it trailed for much of the game.

After falling behind by 22 in the early going (and still facing a 20-point deficit at halftime) against Notre Dame, WVU had a shot to win the game at the buzzer. Da'Sean Butler's 3-point try was long, and the Irish escaped with a 70-68 win.

Even an eight point Syracuse lead with only 42 seconds nearly wasn't enough for the then-No. 5 Orange to vanquish West Virginia.

A barrage of late 3-pointers and free throws pulled the Mountaineers back within a point, but Butler's desperation heave from three-quarter court wasn't close, and SU left Morgantown a 72-71 winner.

Ohio State wasn't so lucky. After building a 14-point first half lead and taking a 12-point cushion into the locker room at halftime, the Buckeyes thought they had WVU right where they wanted it.

But West Virginia's version of the Cardiac Kids clawed back, and took control down the stretch of a 71-65 victory.

"When you think about some of the slow starts we've had and the holes we've put ourselves in, we've become very resilient," said third-year Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins.

"Look at the second half of the Notre Dame game, the last minute or so of the Syracuse game, the second half of the Ohio State game. Really, we kind of let Marshall get all the momentum going Wednesday night (in WVU's 68-60 win). I think our guys have proven to be very resilient."

But obviously Huggins and his players would prefer if they didn't have to dig themselves out of such massive holes in every game. The veteran coach doesn't have an answer as to why his team has struggled out of the gates in so many contests.

"I'm not sure why," he said, matter-of-factly.

"That's why we do scouting and film and all those kinds of things, so we are prepared for what they do."

And prepared, the Mountaineers have been, according to Huggins.

"I don't think in the last three or four games -- or, really, I can't remember any games where they threw things at us we didn't expect," he said. "We just didn't handle it very well."

While the head coach acknowledged that his trademark man-to-man defense has had its share of troubles, he said that most of the Mountaineers' struggles have resulted from their inability to put points on the board.

Indeed, WVU ranks relatively low in most major offensive categories. Its field goal percentage has been trending downwards in recent weeks, as the team has not shot 44.8 percent (its average on the season) since hitting 49.3 percent of its shots against Rutgers -- nearly three weeks ago.

But while Huggins has often said his teams shots just aren't falling, he said that isn't the result of making poor choices about what attempts are worth taking.

"I think the crux of the problem is we haven't scored the ball very well," he said. "I'm sure some of that is due to execution, but the reality is we've had pretty good shots. You can't look back and say, ‘Gosh, we took God awful shots.' We haven't. We've taken pretty good shots."

But those shots haven't fallen often, and as a result, West Virginia finds itself facing more and more zone defenses -- which it has struggled to solve at times.

That is a theme that may well repeat itself tomorrow night, when the Mountaineers travel to Chicago and take on DePaul.

Since firing head coach Jerry Wainwright on Jan. 11, the Blue Demons have managed to break what was a 24-game regular season Big East Conference losing streak, taking down Marquette 51-50 last Wednesday.

But Huggins said interim coach Tracy Webster hasn't changed his team's Xs and Os too much from what Wainwright was doing before.

"They're playing maybe a bit more 2-3 zone, but I don't think they're significantly different," he said.

The key to success for the Blue Demons (8-11, 1-6) is the offense of guard Will Walker. The senior had 31 points against WVU last year and is his team's leading scorer, averaging 16 points per game.

"Will got it going against us pretty good last year," Huggins said. "We had a hard time guarding him."

"He's getting his shots. They're running things for him, but they've always run things for him. It's the same thing. They run that baseline runner for him. They may be freeing things for him a bit more, but it's basically the same thing. He's a good player."

On the other end of the floor, Huggins said he needs his team to be more aggressive with the ball if it hopes to avoid falling into the trap of sluggish early play that has plagued it thus far in 2010.

"We'd like to start the game off a bit better," he said, understating things as only he can.

"We're going to have to attack. They're going to play man and they've got really good size inside. We're going to have to attack their man and we're going to have to attack some 2-3 zone."


BlueGoldNews Top Stories