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Mountaineers out of sync

AP Photo
Eron Harris
AP Photo Terry Henderson

WACO, Texas - There are a couple of things Bob Huggins knows would give his West Virginia basketball team a better chance to win games these days. One would make his team's offense better, the other his defense.

Making either happen, though, is problematic.

The Mountaineers (11-9, 3-4 Big 12) face No. 24 but reeling Baylor (13-6, 1-5) at 7 p.m. (ET) today at the Ferrell Center in a game that will be televised by ESPN2. It's a game West Virginia would seem to have a chance to win given that the Bears have lost four in a row and five of six since climbing as high as No. 7 in the Top 25 earlier this month.

But to do so, those offensive and defensive issues have to be addressed. Huggins on Monday lamented the fact that his team hasn't been able to rebound the basketball, which is why teams are shooting such a high percentage against the Mountaineers. West Virginia hasn't been able to avoid giving up second shots, which naturally increases an opposing offense's efficiency.

On the other end, though, it's more a matter of luck. West Virginia has two guards - Eron Harris and Terry Henderson - capable of just going off and putting up big scoring numbers any night. And while each has, they haven't been able to do it on the same night.

"For some reason it seems when Eron is making shots, Terry isn't,'' Huggins said. "And we need both of those guys to make shots for us.''

West Virginia's two most recent games are a case in point. Last Wednesday at home against Texas Tech, Henderson had arguably the best game of his career. The sophomore made five of his six 3-point attempts, 10 of 13 shots overall and had a career-high 28 points. Harris was OK, making three 3-pointers, but was still below his normal scoring average of 17.6 points.

But then three days later at Oklahoma State, Henderson missed all five of his 3-point tries and nine of his 10 shots overall. Harris had what he said was perhaps the best game he'd ever played, at least from a shooting perspective. Even though he played just 21 minutes because of foul trouble, he was 6 for 7 on 3s and scored 21 points.

"The one field goal [Henderson] got was a layup off a steal,'' Huggins said. "We need him to make shots.''

But beyond the offense that those two could provide if they were ever in sync, there still exists the defensive issue. Huggins seems at least fairly satisfied with how his team is guarding shots, and the numbers bear that out. West Virginia is near the top of the Big 12 (third) in 3-point field goal percentage defense. Teams aren't making an inordinate number of jump shots inside the arc, either.

But because of the rebounding deficiencies, those opponents are getting far too many second shots. Quite simply, if a team misses, rebounds and then makes a second shot, that's 50 percent shooting. And so it doesn't matter how good the initial defense is if the end result is a second shot. Only TCU in the Big 12 allows opponents a higher percentage of offensive rebounds after missed shots.

"Probably the biggest thing is that we haven't rebounded it as well as we've rebounded it in the past," Huggins said. "We give people second chances.''

The problem might well continue tonight against Baylor. Despite its recent problems, the Bears are the best offensive rebounding team in the Big 12, as well as the most proficient rebounding team overall. In Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers, the Bears have three of the top 13 rebounders in the league.

But Baylor hasn't done many other things well, ranking at or near the bottom of the conference in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense. The Bears are also the worst free-throw shooting team in the Big 12.

But this was still a team that started the season 12-1 and beat then-No. 3 Kentucky. It's only loss prior to conference play was against still-unbeaten Syracuse in Hawaii. But its only win since that 12-1 start was against TCU.

"I think [WVU's players] understand how talented they are," Huggins said. "The thing that's hard is that they have such great length. They play a lot of matchup zone and do a great job with it. I think it's extra effective because of their ability to block shots."

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

 


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