MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In at least some ways, West Virginia's basketball team seems to have reverted to what it was in November and December.
That's not entirely true, of course, because the Mountaineers have made strides. Still, consider the broader view.
Early in the season, it was a team still learning how to do anything more than take advantage of its strength, which was an ability to shoot the basketball. At that point, defense, rebounding, all sorts of team concepts were in the development stage and West Virginia won or lost games pretty much on the basis of whether they shot the ball well or not.
That dependence on shooting wasn't as great as the season went along and the Mountaineers discovered how to do other things. When they were doing those other things - playing defense, getting to the basket, rebounding - they were at their best.
But then look at West Virginia's last three games. There has been no inside presence at all, the Mountaineers having been outscored 130-50 in the paint. Getting to the basket has been a chore. Rebounding has been uneven, at best.
So West Virginia has been reduced to what it was before, a team that lives and dies on shooting, both its own and that of its opponents. If Wednesday's 83-66 loss at Iowa State wasn't sufficient enough an example, go back the last three games, all of which WVU has lost.
"We're trying to outscore teams,'' point guard Juwan Staten said. "And when we're not making shots, not hitting open 3s, it's going to be tough for us unless we start guarding.''
Making shots and playing defense well enough to prevent other teams from doing the same are really all the Mountaineers have to fall back on at this point. Neither has been accomplished in those last three games.
Texas, Baylor and Iowa State each have shot better than 50 percent against a West Virginia team that is dead last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage defense. So much for playing good defense.
"That's what [coach Bob Huggins] preaches every day in practice. That's what we emphasize in every game, guarding,'' Staten said. "And right now we're just not doing a good job of it.''