Mountaineers Face Tough Road
MORGANTOWN – With West Virginia’s 12-point victory against Seton Hall on Wednesday night, the Mountaineers entered Spin City.
Halfway through the Big East season, the nationally ranked Mountaineers moved into a tie for second place in the league with five of their final nine games at home.
All of that is true, and it seems so simple, so go ahead and celebrate.
OK, time’s up.
A further look reveals this severely depleted West Virginia team, which has operated with just eight scholarship players the last three games, plays seven of its last nine against ranked teams, including three on the road against Top-12 teams.
The Mountaineers have won two of the three games they have played – the one loss a one-point setback on the road to Louisville – since sophomore Danny Jennings walked away from the team and Casey Mitchell was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules the next day. Neither of those victories were against ranked teams.
”That was definitely a big blow with the whole Casey and Danny situation,” WVU forward Kevin Jones. ”I think it was at that point that we knew that all we had was us and we knew that our backs were against the wall. We had to come out fighting and that’s what we did. We found a chemistry that’s working pretty well right now and we’ve got to keep on going with that in upcoming games.”
They know no one is feeling sorry for them, that’s for sure.
”We don’t make excuses,” Jones said. ”At tough times, you just have to adjust to it and keep on playing through it, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
As West Virginia coach Bob Huggins suggested, the current eight-player rotation really has no one who can create off the bounce or “shoot it straight,” so the offense is going to predictably stalls at times.
Even against the Pirates on Wednesday in a relatively easy victory, the Mountaineers had only five points in the last 7:57.
”I think we understand that we have eight guys, we’ve got to make hustle plays,” Huggins said. ”We’ve got to try to play harder than everybody else does. I think my teams, by and large, have always played hard.”
That means floor burns, Joe Mazzulla-like floor burns.
”Defense and rebounds,” Mazzulla said. ”Those are the two things we always stick to. Kind of like (Wednesday) night, we know our offense isn’t going to be there, we’re not going to knock down shots. But you can always control how hard you play, and you can always control what the rebounding margin is. If we win those two things, we’re pretty much in every game.”
Earlier in the season, when Jones played all but about 30 seconds of a game, Huggins suggested he could rest when the season’s over.
On Wednesday, Jones played 38, John Flowers played 39, and Mazzulla logged 36. The bench players – Deniz Kilicli, Jonnie West, and Dalton Pepper – combined for 33 minutes.
The bench players combined for 16 points and 13 rebounds (with Kilicli getting 10 and seven), as they nearly outmatched the five Seton Hall reserves to play (20 points and 15 rebounds).
So maybe it’s not all gloom and doom, as some have suggested.
”No,” Jones said. ”When you’re playing together and when you’re playing for a purpose, it’s not as tough as it looks. If we would do it individually, it would be definitely tougher. But everybody’s starting to come together and starting to bond and looking toward one goal. I think it makes it easier on everybody.”
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com