MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Of all the improvements made by West Virginia's basketball team this season, it's one that hasn't been made that perhaps seems most surprising.
Bob Huggins has always tried to build his teams around defense and rebounding because those are two essential parts of the game that are as much about effort as they are talent or physical tools. Sure, it helps to be a quick defender or a tall rebounder, but effort can be a great equalizer.
Well, as West Virginia (15-10, 7-5 Big 12) continues to make a late-season push for an NCAA tournament berth with Saturday night's game at Texas (19-5, 8-3), one of those areas has improved dramatically over the course of the season. The other hasn't.
"I think we're much better defensively,'' Huggins said Thursday. "I don't know how much better we are rebounding because of the lineup we're playing.''
Statistics don't tell the whole story in the case of defense or rebounding. Defensive numbers especially can be skewed by the pace of games. Rebounding numbers tend not to tell the story of how a team fares at crucial times, and they don't take into account lineup changes meant to strengthen other phases of the game, like playing smaller to handle pressure.
The truth is, West Virginia doesn't rank very high in either category. The Mountaineers are eighth in the Big 12 in points allowed and dead last in opponent field goal percentage. Only in holding down opponents' 3-point shooting percentages has WVU improved of late, ranking third.
And in rebounding, West Virginia is eighth in overall rebounding and ninth in rebounding margin.
At least part of West Virginia's rebounding problems, though - especially of late - are because of what amounts to a concession on the part of Huggins. After 20 or so games he basically admitted that if his team couldn't rebound, it had better concentrate on doing something at which it could be successful.
"I like to win more than I like to rebound,'' Huggins said.