A grand day for Hugs
FORT WORTH, Texas - Bob Huggins remembers it almost like it was yesterday, the first game in which he was ever involved as a college basketball head coach.
It was the start of the 1980-81 season and Huggins was the just-turned 27-year-old coach at Walsh College in Ohio.
"It was against Oberlin, I'm pretty sure,'' Huggins correctly recalled on Friday. "Ed Janka was the coach at Oberlin. He's now Nike's director of [basketball camps and clinics] and still a very dear friend of mine.''
What Huggins recalls quite clearly, of course, is the result. He remembers almost all the results, win or lose. On that night, his debut was smashing. His Walsh team pummeled Oberlin, winning 91-59, on the road no less. That Oberlin finished 1-25 that season didn't much matter.
"I thought about retiring after that one,'' he said. "I was 1-0. I could have retired undefeated.''
He didn't, of course. And it was no time at all before his unblemished mark was ruined. He would lose his home opener a few days later by a point to Davis & Elkins. His team would finish 14-16, but two years later was 34-1.
More than three decades and four head coaching jobs later, Huggins will coach his 1,000th game today. His West Virginia team (11-11, 4-5 Big 12) faces TCU (10-12, 1-8) in a 4 p.m. game at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum that will be televised by the Big 12 network (locally on WQCW).
It is a milestone that rather crept up on Huggins, who is 720-279 in his 31st season as a head coach at Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia, one that he jokingly said made him feel older than his 59 years.
"Actually, I was feeling better,'' he cracked. "Then I found that out and my hips started to hurt and I started aching again.''
Chances are good that today's game with TCU will not go down as a particularly memorable one for Huggins aside from the milestone aspect. In a career that includes 25 20-win seasons and only two in which his teams finished under .500 (his first at Walsh and then his first at Akron), this is a game between a WVU team struggling to get back over .500 and a TCU squad that until a rather unfathomable upset of No. 5 Kansas on Wednesday seemed headed for a potential 0-fer in its first year of Big 12 play.
"I thought they played hard and ran good offense. I never thought they'd go winless,' Huggins said of the Horned Frogs, who lost 71-50 in Morgantown just over two weeks ago. "But no, [beating Kansas] probably wouldn't have been my first pick [for TCU's initial win].''
Still, memorable or not, today is significant for Huggins and the Mountaineers. They can get back above .500 for the first time since a three-game losing streak in mid-January and keep alive their hopes for postseason play. The schedule becomes much harder soon, because with the exception of next Saturday's home game with Texas Tech everyone else remaining is playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament. So winning a game against a team that is not would seem obligatory.
TCU, though, proved on Wednesday that it can play and win, beating Kansas 62-55 in a game in which the Frogs never trailed and won despite shooting just 39 percent and missing 16 free throws.
"I think they missed three front ends [of one-and-one fouls] and still were able to get stops,'' Huggins said. "They never gave up.''
And perhaps this game does become memorable for something unusual. But after 999 of these, Huggins tends to remember most fondly the games that meant something in the bigger picture. He reminisced Friday about a couple of them in recent years, chiefly his 2010 team that won the Big East tournament title and then upset Kentucky to reach the Final Four for the first time in half a century.
"Obviously the Kentucky game was great because of what it meant to the state and the people,'' Huggins said. "And I think winning the Big East was really great. You're in the largest city in the world, in the most famous arena in the world and they're playing 'Country Roads.' ''
After that, though, three of the next four are at home against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Baylor. The only road trip in there is a week from Monday at Kansas State.
It will remain that way after today unless Murray scores at least 17 points or Staten scores at least 19.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.