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WVU season taking on familiar feel

MORGANTOWN - At various stages during a rather fractured interview following another West Virginia loss on Saturday, Eron Harris seemed at a loss to explain much of anything.

"I'm just in a state where I don't know what to do,'' Harris said at one point.

"I'm running out of answers for everything,'' he said at another.

Such is pretty much the general state of affairs where the Mountaineers are concerned in the wake of three straight losses that seem to have set the team on an unfortunately familiar path. Saturday's 78-56 rout at the hands of Kansas State on the road was WVU's third straight. It was the second in a row that really wasn't even competitive.

In other words, if things don't change rather quickly, what is standing in the way of a repeat of last year's 13-19 debacle?

"Yeah, it's like last year is continuing,'' Harris said. "It's frustrating.''

In truth, the parallels to a year ago are striking, at least in terms of where the Mountaineers are and could be heading. On Jan. 20 of last year, WVU was 8-9 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers had followed up an overtime road win at Texas with a one-point home loss to a Kansas State team that would go on to share the Big 12 title, then lost back-to-back road games, the second a rout at the hands of Purdue.

This year on Jan. 20? Well, WVU is 10-8 overall and 2-3 in the Big 12, which is only slightly ahead of last year's pace. And again, after an overtime win in Texas (at Texas Tech), WVU lost a heart-breaker at home to top-notch Oklahoma State, then extended the losing streak to three with a lopsided road loss.

So really, what is to prevent this team from continuing down the same path as last year?

"I just know I'm going to play a hundred percent every time,'' Harris said. "That's what I can control, my effort. So I'm going to give my effort and I'm going to motivate my teammates.''

Harris actually had, at least statistically, one of his better games in a while in Saturday's loss at Kansas State. In six of the previous seven games, the sophomore shooting guard was a combined 7 for 40 (17.5 percent) on 3-pointers and his scoring average had dropped from 19.3 to 17.4 points per game. At K-State, he made half his eight 3-point attempts and scored 21 points.

It didn't help much, though, because after making two 3s in the first three minutes of the game, Harris was pretty much shut down until things had already started to get away from WVU. Almost no one was shooting well against Kansas State's smothering defense (WVU was held to a season-low 32.7 percent), and defensively the Mountaineers couldn't handle the Wildcats' deliberate passing offense.

Of course, there is an argument to be made that perhaps Kansas State's style was just not a good match for WVU and Saturday's result was an anomaly. But the fact remains that it was still the third straight loss against three very different styles and, as a result, the Mountaineers are starting to feel like they are in a rut, which is probably true.

But how to escape from it?

"I don't know what has changed. All I know is what's going on with me,'' Harris said. "I think I'm on the right track. I'm playing hard.

"I can control what I can control. I can be a leader by trying to motivate my teammates and trying to lead by example. And that's all I can do.''

Some of West Virginia's immediate problem is confidence. Nearly half the players who are contributing (four in the nine-man rotation) weren't even around last year, so they can't be experiencing some sort of déjà vu. But they, along with everyone else, have gone through this year's struggles and are beginning to lose the confidence that's needed to play the game.

"Yeah, I see that. And that's the key,'' Harris said. "If you don't think you can do it, then you aren't going to do it.

"I talked to Devin [Williams] before the game. I told him, 'You're a freshman, but who cares? You're a player and they're players. Freshman this and freshman that? Forget that. Play like you're an NBA player. Play with confidence. We've all had to battle confidence.' '

BRIEFLY: If West Virginia is going to snap its losing streak anytime soon, Wednesday's next game is certainly the best opportunity. That's when Texas Tech (10-8, 2-3) comes to the Coliseum for an 8 p.m. game. The Red Raiders are on a two-game win streak after upsetting Baylor and winning at TCU.

After that things get dicey again. There's a two-game road trip to No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 12 Baylor, home games against Kansas State (No. 26 in the most recent AP poll) and No. 25 Oklahoma, then games at No. 15 Kansas and at home against No. 8 Iowa State. Depending upon the coming rankings, that's potentially six straight games against Top 25 teams.

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


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