Huggins: Go hard or stay home
MORGANTOWN - As Bob Huggins made his way through a short maze of narrow hallways toward West Virginia's locker room late Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, he was replaying the final few minutes of his team's 81-66 loss to Michigan in his head.
As he walked he was lamenting that, despite having been taken to the woodshed for most of the night by the No. 3 Wolverines, his team had its chances down the stretch. The Mountaineers somehow had chipped away at an 18-point deficit against one of the best teams in the country and were within 71-64 with 41/2 minutes to play.
"We make a shot and it's down to what, four?'' he asked no one in particular.
It is worth noting, however, that this stroll was at the conclusion of his last real obligation of the night, which was his post-game Q&A with the media. And during that 10-minute session, the final 41/2 minutes - in which WVU scored just two points - barely came up.
"We didn't score in the last four minutes and we had a bunch of young guys out there who tried to catch up on one possession and took some bad shots,'' was really all Huggins said regarding the specifics of any part of the game. "We can fix that.
"That's a lot easier to fix than a bunch of guys standing around watching the ball roll on the floor and while everybody else dives for it they stand around and watch.''
That's right. This was not as much a Q&A as it was an opportunity for Huggins to make a point. He does that from time to time, usually when things are not going well for his basketball team. At 4-5 through nine games, things are not going well at all.
And so he took the opportunity Saturday night to illustrate his point. He didn't just do it after the game in words, but during it in deeds, as well.
"I thought we put some guys in that competed,'' Huggins said, referring to increased playing time for a handful of players. "And I think we took some guys out that wouldn't.''
Indeed, the boxscore from Saturday night's game reflects some significant shifts in who was on the floor. A pair of freshmen, Terry Henderson and Eron Harris, played 36 and 21 minutes, respectively. Henderson had 23 points and three steals and Harris 10 points, two steals and didn't miss a shot.
Point guard Juwan Staten was on the floor almost the whole game, as usual. Dominique Rutledge played for the first time this month, Keaton Miles was back in the starting lineup and Volodymyr Gerun made his college debut.
Just as significant was who was not on the floor, a list that included WVU's two primary centers, Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray. Kilicli played just nine minutes and sat most of the second half and Murray wasn't even allowed to make the trip. Jabarie Hinds played only eight minutes, Matt Humphrey didn't take off his sweats and Aaron Brown did so for just two minutes.
"I'm sick of it,'' Huggins said. "I'm sick of watching guys stand around. I'm sick of watching guys not compete. I'm sick of guys missing shot after shot after shot who never come early, never stay late, don't think about coming in on an off day and then tell me they care?
"I want some guys who care. If I get some guys who care, I've got a great coaching staff. We'll coach them up.''
Huggins was hardest on his centers, Kilicli and Murray. Kilicli, as has been the case in almost every game this season - Marshall was the notable exception - was just awful. In nine minutes he took just three shots, missed them all and grabbed only two rebounds. With WVU's outside shooting horrendous most of the season, Huggins had made it a point to try to get the ball inside. But Kilicli is missing shots or turning the ball over more than anything else.
"Deniz hasn't finished anything around the rim. And we're not playing Deniz for his defensive ability, obviously," Huggins said. "We just can't keep doing it. We can't gear a lot of what we do around somebody that's not going to finish.
"I love Deniz, I want you to understand that. Deniz is one of my favorite guys of all time. I love him to death. I'm not sure I love anybody enough to lose for him. I don't know if I love my wife that much, to lose for her."
His harshest criticisms were reserved for Murray, whose work ethic and attitude - or so it would seem judging by Huggins' comments - contributed to him being left at home.
"I've left guys home that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray,'' Huggins said. "I've sent a couple of guys home after we got [to games] that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray. ... Honestly, did we miss him? I don't think we did. And if he doesn't do right in the future we won't miss him in the future, either.
"I'll feel kind of bad that he's gone, but I'm not going to miss him. We're going to do right, and that goes for all of them.''
Huggins talked about the players he has had since returning to West Virginia five-plus seasons ago. Like this group, perhaps they were not as talented as some teams, but they made up for it in other ways.
"Since I've been here we've had guys that were very committed to what we were doing,'' Huggins said, listing names from Joe Alexander through Kevin Jones and so many in between. "But they were in the gym. They weren't hanging out on High Street. They weren't hanging out at some girl's house. They were in the gym. They were committed to what we were doing. ...
"There's no way that if we lost to Duquesne [as WVU did Tuesday, losing a 15-point second-half lead] that Kevin Jones wouldn't have been in the gym all day.''
On the plus side, perhaps the most demanding early-season schedule in school history is pretty much over. West Virginia has played just two games at the Coliseum, which is about to change with four in a row there. The first three are against relative lightweights (compared to No. 3 Michigan) Oakland, Radford and Eastern Kentucky, beginning with Oakland on Wednesday.
Finals are also over, meaning Huggins has more time to work with his team during the holiday break. Perhaps during that time he will find those he considers willing to sacrifice and play the kind of tough, nasty basketball he likes.
"I want to play guys that want to play. I want to play guys that want to get better. I'm going to play guys that will put in time and care,'' Huggins said. "People say, 'He's is a nice kid.' There's a lot of those in the library. I'm not playing them, either.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1