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WVU plagued by missed opportunities

MORGANTOWN - There was a sequence in West Virginia's loss to No. 14 Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum that pretty much summed up the game, if not the season itself.

It came about rather quickly and lasted only a few seconds, but everything about it seemed so typical of the shortcomings the Mountaineers have displayed all season.

It came with about nine minutes to play and Oklahoma State holding a fairly comfortable 13-point lead, 58-45. It was fairly comfortable because the Cowboys had only a short time before completed a 13-2 run to take control, but not entirely safe because West Virginia has been known to stage late rallies to make games interesting.

If it was going to happen again, this was the perfect spot. Matt Humphrey had just made a couple of free throws to take a couple of points off of what had been a 15-point deficit, and on the other end, West Virginia's defense was getting after the Cowboys.

Le'Bryan Nash had the ball for OSU on the right side, between the 3-point line and the sideline in front of the WVU student section. Time was running down on the shot clock, but it wasn't yet critical. The students made it seem that way, counting down 3-2-1 when it was really about 9-8-7.

That doesn't often work, but it did this time, leaving Nash to heave up an out-of-control toss toward the basket that had no real chance of going in. It was exactly the kind of momentum-swinging play on which West Virginia might have been able to build a rally.

Except for one thing.

The Mountaineers had no one under or even near the basket. Oklahoma State did. And so all Brian Williams had to do was tip Nash's wild shot in. The lead went back to 15, would soon be 18 and ended with a 73-57 OSU win over West Virginia.

"Shot clock's running down, they're falling out of bounds and heave one up,'' coach Bob Huggins said later, recounting the play. "You'd think we'd block out, wouldn't you? You'd think so. They catch it and lay it in. We're standing there watching it. That's not playing.''

Well, actually it is playing, for a while. And that's something West Virginia has mastered - playing in spurts, but not finishing. As Huggins is fond of saying - and repeated Saturday - basketball isn't a hard game. The hard part is doing a series of fairly simple things in rapid succession and without fail.

The Mountaineers do many of them - such as getting Oklahoma State into an awful spot in the shot clock - but then are either stopped or interrupt themselves.

What it has meant is that as the regular season winds down, it will take nothing short of a miraculous turnaround for West Virginia to avoid losing more games than it wins.

The Mountaineers (13-14, 6-8 Big 12) have four games remaining, plus at least one game in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. Just to assure themselves a break-even season they would have to win three of those final four regular-season games to finish 16-15 heading into the league tourney.

And all four of the remaining games are against teams with NCAA tournament resumes or hopes. It starts with Wednesday night's home game with Baylor, which is seeing its NCAA hopes slip away and is desperate for wins. Trips to Kansas and Oklahoma follow that, and a home game with Iowa State completes the regular season.

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


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