MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Driving from Charleston to WVU's Coliseum, I began to wonder what exactly I was doing. Sure, it was the Mountaineers' last regular-season hoops game and senior day and all, but, um ... so? The home team was 13-17 heading into the game. The visiting team had no stars of note, unless you count Will Clyburn, whom I did vote as a second-team All-Big 12 pick.
Guess it was curiosity. Kind of like watching the start of a car wreck - which I saw in person in the season opener at Spokane, Wash., when Gonzaga pounded WVU 84-50 - and continuing to watch until the screeching, skidding and flying gravel stops. You want to see if the car is saved or totaled.
After a half on Saturday, I was convinced of the latter. Zero improvement. The Mountaineers were on pace to lose at home by 48 to Iowa State.
The hosts, however, actually rallied. Jabarie Hinds actually came alive with 19 points. WVU whittled a 27-point deficit down to four with 48 ticks left.
Even big man Aaric Murray came alive, breathing hope into the 9,413 in attendance. He had 11 points, a few rebounds and three big blocks in just 16 minutes of playing time.
Then he fouled out, and what happened immediately after is significant.
I'm not talking about WVU's eventual 83-74 loss. I'm not even talking about Deniz Kilicli's two killer mistakes (a missed layup and subsequent foul on a 3-point shot) after replacing Murray.
The reference is to the interaction between WVU coach Bob Huggins and Murray. After Murray had thrilled the crowd before fouling out with 2:22 remaining, Huggins slapped the center on the back in a "good job" sort of way.
Then Huggins reversed field. He turned back, grabbed Murray's arm and pulled him back.
"I asked him," Huggins said afterward, "why he didn't play like that all the time."
Perfect question for Murray. Perfect question for Hinds. Perfect question for a team that outscored Iowa State 54-39 in the second half - and lost by nine.
"In the second half," said senior Matt Humphrey, "we did stuff we practice every day and it worked. We were finally fired up to do it."
Bizarre, right? (Finally?) Humphrey, though, was worth a listen. He's now played his last game for the third time. He's also played at Oregon and Boston College. He has a unique perspective.
"Regardless of how the season went, none of us were quitters," Humphrey said. "I know I'm not. [WVU] will get better, man. You know [the Mountaineers will] get better."
"It's a level of excellence here. Coach Hugs is one of the best in the world. He demands perfection. Because he does, West Virginia basketball won't have a year like this again."