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Searching for answers after missed opportunity

MORGANTOWN - There's a chance that West Virginia's basketball team isn't going to get a ton of opportunities like the one it had Saturday.

Playing at the Coliseum, the Mountaineers are in the second half of a Big 12 game with a 12-point lead and a crowd of more than 12,000 into it. They are shooting the ball well and making 3-pointers like it was 2005 again, which in and of itself is a rarity.

"It was the first Big 12 game, home opener, packed crowd,'' freshman guard Terry Henderson said. "What more could you ask for?''

Well, a win. That West Virginia did not get one, despite all those in-its-favor circumstances.

And after the Mountaineers had blown that dozen-point lead and fallen to Oklahoma by nearly the same margin, 67-57, it was hard to find anything resembling a silver lining. With the exception of Henderson's six 3-pointers and 21 points, there wasn't much to build on.

"The only thing we can do is go back to the drawing board,'' point guard Juwan Staten said.

The trouble with that, of course, is that this is not the time to be starting over. Saturday's game with the Sooners marked the beginning of conference play, which for the Mountaineers means 19 games (including a non-league game at Purdue) in nine weeks. The opportunity to start over or from scratch is long gone.

Next up are three road games in the next two weeks. It begins with a game at Texas Wednesday night, then after a Saturday afternoon home game with Kansas State there are two more trips next week - Iowa State in midweek and Purdue the following Saturday.

"Now we have two days to get ready for a team instead of a week,'' coach Bob Huggins said. "So now what are you going to do?''

Huggins was once again lamenting his team's lack of focus and an inability to consistently do the basics right. He talked of lack of effort in rebounding and playing defense, the two things that Huggins consistently preaches are the only constants in basketball, given that shooting comes and goes.

And with this team, shooting 39.7 percent, it doesn't often come.

"I think it's concentration,'' said Staten. "We don't do that. We do it in spurts and that doesn't work. We have to concentrate for 40 minutes.''

In truth, concentration and focus should be an issue for the Mountaineers. With 10 players in the rotation and others available if necessary, no one besides Staten is playing a lot of minutes. Staten averages 32.3 minutes per game and no one else averages much more than half a game. Aaric Murray is second at 23.9 minutes, while Henderson, Gary Browne, Deniz Kilicli and Jabarie Hinds are all at around 20 minutes.

In other words, almost no one has to focus or concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time before he's replaced. But even that hasn't worked.

And it's not going to get any easier with 10 of the next 17 games on the road.

"We really let this one get away,'' said Staten, who had 10 points and seven assists in 36 minutes. "It just came down to the end, the last six minutes, and we collapsed. We didn't play defense and we didn't hit the boards.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1


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