Huggins questions his players' effort, courage
MORGANTOWN - Losing to Marquette Friday night at the Coliseum bothered Bob Huggins, but by now he has learned to deal somewhat with the losses. After all, he has now coached 973 college basketball games, and while he's won 708 he's also lost 265, so it's nothing really new to fall short.
This one, though, seemed different not because his team lost - West Virginia's seventh defeat in the last nine games - but because of the way the Mountaineers lost.
"This is as frustrated as I've been since my first year at Walsh College, when I went home and asked my wife, 'You think I could sell insurance because I can't do this?' '' Huggins said. "I can't lose like this. It just eats me up. I can't do it. And these guys, it doesn't seem to bother them much.''
Not that he hasn't done it before, but after West Virginia's 61-60 defeat at the hands of a top-10 team that spotted WVU a 15-point lead by suspending three starters for the first half, Huggins pretty much tore into his team. First he did it behind closed doors, then on his post-game radio show and finally in a late-night press conference that ended at midnight.
To paraphrase Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the movie Network, Huggins was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it anymore.
It began innocently enough when Huggins was asked if perhaps playing the type of hard-nosed defense he asks of his players was the hardest transition for his freshman-dominated team.
"The hardest transition is that you have to play every play. You can't take plays off. You can't stand and stare at the ball,'' Huggins said. "The reality is that there's a whole bunch of them that we ought to take the price of the season ticket out of their scholarship because they've stood and watched the whole year. They've never participated.
"I've been doing this 30 years. And people who have seen our teams play, we never got outmanned the way we got outmanned [against Marquette].''
Indeed, there were times during Friday night's game when the Mountaineers, who are now in grave danger of seeing their four-season streak of NCAA tournament berths snapped, seemed almost resigned to allowing No. 10 Marquette to run past them, both figuratively and literally. In outscoring WVU 39-23 over the last 181/2 minutes of the game, the Golden Eagles scored 13 of their 15 field goals on layups, follow shots or dunks. They repeatedly stole the ball and ran or simply cleared out and drove to the basket.
And often they did so with little or no resistance.
"We have a situation where we throw the ball away - which we do a lot, so we ought to have a lot of practice at it - and they're going down [the floor],'' Huggins recalled. "I'm not really sure what happened because I'm looking to make sure we've got guys following the play ... and we've got a guy who just stops. He's the one who threw it away and he stops. And they run by us, they miss the layup and they tip it in. I've never had that.
"I've never had a guy get out of the way and not take a charge. I've never had that. I don't get it. I just don't get it. I despise cowards. I despise guys who have an opportunity to play at the highest level of major college basketball who's afraid to step in front of a guy and take a charge. I can't fathom that. I can't fathom accepting a scholarship and not competing.''
It's not everyone Huggins targets, of course. Kevin Jones, for example, had one of his worst nights of the season, missing all five of his 3-point attempts, scoring just 12 points and grabbing on six rebounds. He averages 20.3 points and 11.3 rebounds.
But he can't do it alone, especially on those rare occasions he's not at the top of his game.
"You're trying to survive and you're trying to win enough games so that K.J. gets to finish his career the way he should,'' Huggins said. "What I feel like is going in there for three hours [at practice] and just running the absolute you know what out of them, and make them stand there and take charges and make them dive on the floor. But you can't do it at this time of the year. And I didn't do it [before] because everybody said, 'Well, they're freshmen.' Yeah, they're freshmen that don't win, that's what they are.
"If I'm a freshman, I'm looking at Kevin Jones and what that guy has done and what that guy has meant and I'm saying, 'Man, I'll do whatever I can do to help this guy.' ''
Whether or not it is too late to salvage West Virginia's current season remains in doubt, although the chances of doing so and earning that NCAA bid dwindle with each loss. Even if the Mountaineers can win their final two regular-season games at home against DePaul on Tuesday and at South Florida Saturday, they still will likely need multiple wins in the Big East tournament.
Huggins was asked if perhaps his younger players weren't terribly worried about giving every ounce of effort because they know that with only three upperclassmen on the roster he has little choice but to play them regardless.
"You know what they'd better start worrying about? Where they're going to go next, because we're not going to do this. I'm not going to do it,'' Huggins said. "If that sounds hard and cruel, you know what? They have a responsibility.
"I always got in trouble because I tried to save the world. I tried to save everybody. But isn't there a point in time where you have to carry your own weight? I don't run socialism. We're not going to have five or six guys work so the rest of them can have a good time. We're not going to do that. That's totally different than what I was a long time ago, but you eventually realize that those guys don't appreciate anything anyways. All they do is hurt your other guys.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1