Any hope left for WVU?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No one needs to point out to Bob Huggins the difficulties his West Virginia basketball team has endured this season at the hands of the better teams in the Big 12 Conference.
In fact, when it was redundantly pointed out to him once again in the context of a question Monday night, the Mountaineer coach had a ready retort.
"We're due then, aren't we?'' Huggins asked.
Well, yes. Overdue, in fact.
But after West Virginia was pretty much manhandled by Kansas State Monday night in Manhattan, Kan. - the final score was a not-awful 71-61, but that was thanks to a meaningless 10-0 run by WVU to end the game - it begged the question of whether the Mountaineers would ever get over that hump.
If they can't on at least a few occasions during the next five games and the Big 12 tournament that follows, it will be the end not only of the season, but of the program's nine-year run of postseason berths.
Already it seems that, barring an unlikely run to finish the regular season and/or a Big 12 tournament championship, a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance for West Virginia (13-13, 6-7 Big 12) is out the window.
Just don't tell that to Huggins, whose job it is to keep alive those hopes until the bitter end.
"I don't know,'' Huggins said. "I don't know that it's ever over. Who knows? We may make a run and win the Big 12 tournament.''
Or the Mountaineers might not. Most of the smart money is likely on the latter, given that Monday's loss was the seventh in as many games for West Virginia against the six teams ranked above it in the Big 12 standings. Against the three teams below WVU, the Mountaineers are 6-0, but that's of little consequence now considering that all five remaining games are against the top end of the conference.
That begins Saturday with the first of back-to-back home games, a 2 p.m. contest against Oklahoma State at the Coliseum. It's yet another opportunity for WVU to show that it is more than just the best of the worst teams in the league, although Huggins maintains that his team has gone a ways toward proving that a few times already.
"We had chances. Let's be honest,'' Huggins said. "We could have beaten Kansas State at home. We didn't, but we could have. The Oklahoma game, if we don't have all those breakdowns and rebound the ball, we have a chance. The problem is we have chances and we don't do it. We don't take advantage of them. That's the problem.''
Monday at Kansas State the Mountaineers really didn't have many chances, not after falling into early foul trouble with their two best scorers, Deniz Kilicli and Eron Harris, and digging an 18-4 hole. In truth, West Virginia didn't actually play all that poorly (five fewer turnovers and seven fewer fouls than K-State, along with 52.6 percent shooting in the second half), but in a stop-and-start game dominated by whistles, there were precious few spots in which to make a run.
One opportunity did present itself after Huggins got a technical in the second half and the Mountaineers cut a 21-point deficit to 14, but a few minutes later, with the gap still 14, Harris got a technical of his own and fouled out after colliding with Will Spradling near midcourt.
Harris was so upset with his game - zero points and just two shots in only eight foul-plagued minutes - that he spent part of the second half sitting on the bench sobbing, which was not lost on ESPN and its Big Monday cameras.
Kilicli, who overcame his foul trouble to score 16 points, said that was probably the last of his team's chances to make the game competitive, although he said it was hard to fault Harris.
"That's how he plays. He flops,'' Kilicli said of Spradling, a guard with an eight-point average who scored a career-high 19, including four free throws after the Harris foul and technical when the margin was still 14. "I'm not saying that in a negative way. He does a good job of it.
"But that was four points they didn't even have to work for. We just gave it to them. And that killed us. We never recovered.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.