MORGANTOWN - Losing to Marquette Friday night at the Coliseum bothered Bob Huggins, but by now he has learned to deal somewhat with the losses. After all, he has now coached 973 college basketball games, and while he's won 708 he's also lost 265, so it's nothing really new to fall short.
This one, though, seemed different not because his team lost - West Virginia's seventh defeat in the last nine games - but because of the way the Mountaineers lost.
"This is as frustrated as I've been since my first year at Walsh College, when I went home and asked my wife, 'You think I could sell insurance because I can't do this?' '' Huggins said. "I can't lose like this. It just eats me up. I can't do it. And these guys, it doesn't seem to bother them much.''
Not that he hasn't done it before, but after West Virginia's 61-60 defeat at the hands of a top-10 team that spotted WVU a 15-point lead by suspending three starters for the first half, Huggins pretty much tore into his team. First he did it behind closed doors, then on his post-game radio show and finally in a late-night press conference that ended at midnight.
To paraphrase Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the movie Network, Huggins was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it anymore.
It began innocently enough when Huggins was asked if perhaps playing the type of hard-nosed defense he asks of his players was the hardest transition for his freshman-dominated team.
"The hardest transition is that you have to play every play. You can't take plays off. You can't stand and stare at the ball,'' Huggins said. "The reality is that there's a whole bunch of them that we ought to take the price of the season ticket out of their scholarship because they've stood and watched the whole year. They've never participated.
"I've been doing this 30 years. And people who have seen our teams play, we never got outmanned the way we got outmanned [against Marquette].''
Indeed, there were times during Friday night's game when the Mountaineers, who are now in grave danger of seeing their four-season streak of NCAA tournament berths snapped, seemed almost resigned to allowing No. 10 Marquette to run past them, both figuratively and literally. In outscoring WVU 39-23 over the last 181/2 minutes of the game, the Golden Eagles scored 13 of their 15 field goals on layups, follow shots or dunks. They repeatedly stole the ball and ran or simply cleared out and drove to the basket.
And often they did so with little or no resistance.
"We have a situation where we throw the ball away - which we do a lot, so we ought to have a lot of practice at it - and they're going down [the floor],'' Huggins recalled. "I'm not really sure what happened because I'm looking to make sure we've got guys following the play ... and we've got a guy who just stops. He's the one who threw it away and he stops. And they run by us, they miss the layup and they tip it in. I've never had that.
"I've never had a guy get out of the way and not take a charge. I've never had that. I don't get it. I just don't get it. I despise cowards. I despise guys who have an opportunity to play at the highest level of major college basketball who's afraid to step in front of a guy and take a charge. I can't fathom that. I can't fathom accepting a scholarship and not competing.''