MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Just before his team was about to practice for the final time leading up to today's Big 12 rematch with Oklahoma State at the Coliseum, Bob Huggins was explaining what went wrong the last time the teams met.
It was Jan. 26 in Stillwater and West Virginia stormed out to a quick early lead. The Mountaineers were ahead 24-11 with 51/2 minutes to go before halftime, only to fall completely apart, lose every bit of that 13-point lead and then some, trail by 30-27 at the half and eventually get blown out by the Cowboys 80-66.
It was actually not an unfamiliar place for West Virginia, which oftentimes this season has failed to respond when things start going badly.
"We sometimes haven't handled adversity very well,'' Huggins said, prompting someone to ask if the Mountaineers had handled it well at any time this season. He hesitated a moment when nothing immediate came to mind.
"Well, when you have to think that hard,'' Huggins said, "we probably haven't done it that well.''
Indeed, during a disappointing season that could wind up being just the third losing season in his 31-year head coaching career, Huggins has seen his team fall into bad spots almost routinely. With the exception of only a few games - a late rally to earn an overtime win at Texas way back on Jan. 9 is the best example - there have been few times when the Mountaineers were able to reverse course.
It's happened when WVU was ahead, behind and in close games, and it's not a brand-new phenomenon.
"You know, I was thinking this morning that if you really look back [to last season] we really had the Connecticut game won in the first round of the Big East tournament and we just handed it to them,'' Huggins said, referring to a game in which WVU led by 11 points deep into the second half. "It's the same guys. You say, 'Well, they're sophomores.' And last year we said, 'Well, they're freshmen. They'll get better.' Well, they've got to get better.''
It would be nice if they got better quickly. It could be the difference between playing in the postseason for the 10th straight season or not for the Mountaineers.
With just five regular-season games left, West Virginia (13-13, 6-7 Big 12) begins its stretch run with today's 2 p.m. home game against Oklahoma State (19-6, 9-4). The game will be televised by ESPN2.
There are two other home games (Baylor and Iowa State) and two road games (Kansas and Oklahoma) to play before the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. But against the five teams remaining on the regular-season schedule, WVU is 0-5 so far. It will take some improved play to get any wins at all in that stretch.
Huggins thinks it can happen, but if it does it will be because the Mountaineers have learned to handle adversity, which is sure to arise.