MORGANTOWN -- At one point during the Louisville-WVU game, an advertisement flashed on the scoreboard for smokers. The phone number was 800-QUIT-NOW.
During this Mountaineer losing stretch, which has reached five of six games, coach Bob Huggins' team has refused to quit. But it has certainly been falling apart.
West Virginia's 77-74 loss to the Cardinals Saturday at the Coliseum, on the heels of its 55-51 home loss to Notre Dame, clearly illustrates that.
Against the Fighting Irish, WVU was outscored 13-6 at the end. Saturday, Louisville put together a late 11-0 run to surge. Call it what you wish: the wheels coming off, stumbling at the end or choking. You could say the team wears down. Huggins' team is certainly not as deep or experienced as that of Louisville's Rick Pitino.
But the Mountaineers also make their share of mindless, ill-conceived plays. More than their share.
WVU center Deniz Kilicli understands. Extract some of those plays and this team is a strong contender for an NCAA at-large bid, instead of a suddenly weak one.
"Every team does dumb plays," Kilicli said after the loss. "The teams that have less, though, win more."
"It's a test of mental toughness, and today I flunked that test."
Indeed, Kilicli, a junior, had a prime example of those "dumb plays" on Saturday.
With 1:24 left in the first half, he was whistled for a foul. Instead of showing a bit of emotion, perhaps a little disbelief, he hoisted the ball toward the shell covering the Coliseum. Technical, on top of the personal foul.
"I slinged the ball," Kilicli said. "I didn't just throw it. I've never done that. I lost it. It was just dumb."
Yep. But he wasn't alone. Also in the first half, WVU was rolling along nicely. With possession, Huggins received the benefit of the electronic media timeout at the 12-minute mark. (Note I refuse to call it a media timeout. The print media has absolutely nothing to do with those. And for that, we're proud.)
Anyway, Huggins set up his play. And with the 11,254 in the Coliseum awaiting that play, freshman guard Jabarie Hinds threw the ball away -- on the inbounds pass. At the other end, Wayne Blackshear hit a trey to give the Cardinals a 20-18 lead.
Give Louisville credit. Its press was very effective, even though Huggins said, "If you are allowed to press that way, we should all press."
Some of WVU's miscues against the defense, however, were just bone-headed. There was the time Truck Bryant was picked clean of the ball by Chris Smith after taking an inbounds pass. Smith then simply turned and laid the ball in.
Understand that this WVU team has shown more than expected. After the Mountaineers lost their exhibition game to Northern Kentucky and the second regular-season game to Kent State, a 16-10 record, at that point, would have been welcomed.
But Huggins knows what could be.