Panthers Do Everything Right

MORGANTOWN – Given what West Virginia has to work with (a little) compared to what recent and future opponents have (a lot), you had to figure there would be days like Monday at the WVU Coliseum.

Pitt represented the third game in what shapes up as the toughest nine-game stretch in school history, with seven ranked teams in the group. Even when those teams are without their top scorer, as the No.-4 ranked Panthers were (Ashton Gibbs), they still outmanned the razor-thin Mountaineers.

”They beat us to death on the offensive glass and drove it where they wanted to drive it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.

It’s true, the Panthers (22-2 overall, 10-1 Big East) rarely settled for a jumper – they attempted just six 3-pointers in the game – and crashed on each miss as if the ball was a family member on their way to a a 71-66 victory.

It was the kind of performance, frankly, we became used to seeing from the Mountaineers last season during a Final Four run.

That’s what Huggins thought, too.

The Panthers, he said, were playing for the names on the front of the shirts, not the back.

”It’s admirable in today’s times,” Huggins said. ”We have all these guys who think they’re going to go play in the league (NBA). They’ve got guys that just go play; they just play to win. They don’t force shots, they don’t do things they can’t do. They just do what they can do. It’s refreshing actually.”

Huggins indicated he was talking mostly as a basketball fan in that regard, though, and not about watching it when those things are happening against one of his teams.

As an opposing coach? ”I can’t say what it was,” Huggins said.

Pitt, which found a way to score on all but a handful of second-half possessions (where it poured in 48 points and shot 61 percent from the floor), took advantage of the driving and dishing for 42 in the paint in part because John Flowers, the Big East’s leading shot blocker, was saddled with foul trouble and played only 27 minutes.

”We can’t lose John Flowers,” Huggins said. ”If we lose John Flowers, we lose a guy who is a factor around the rim. We’re not very athletic as it is and our athleticism really takes a nose dive when John is out.”

Flowers wound up with 12 points, three assists, and a block.

Huggins also tried the point-drop defense, something he’s had success with in the past (but Pitt tore through Monday) because he didn’t like what he was seeing from his man-to-man. There was a math problem in there, Huggins said.

”I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but when you and me are guarding a guy, and he doesn’t have the ball, there’s a problem. You just can’t do those things against good teams. You can’t let them get two, three, four shots every crack down the floor.”

On the offensive end, Huggins tried to post up just about everyone at some point, including 6-foot-2 point guard Joe Mazzulla.

”I get tired of watching them miss,” Huggins said. ”After a while, you’re like, ‘damn, somebody bank one in or something.’

”(We were) 4-for-17 from 3. You know what? For the most part, they were good looks.”

Dalton Pepper was 2 of 2 from beyond the arc. Everyone else was a combined 2-for-15, so you can’t blame the coach for trying something else.

What did work was getting the ball into the hands of sophomore center Deniz Kilicli, who used his array of running hooks to go 9 of 13 from the floor and finish with a career-best 19 points.

Not that he was doing any celebrating.

”On our court in front of our fans, it’s sad to say but we really didn’t compete like we should,” Kilicli said. ”I’m mad at myself, I’m mad at my teammates, everybody. Our court, we should have done the opposite of what we did, and outrebounded them, get more putbacks and stuff like they did. We didn’t do it, so …”

Well, there’s always next time. In this case, it’s a 6-16 DePaul team that is winless in the league at 0-10 paying a visit at 4 p.m. Saturday. That’s a rare breather before closing out the season against five ranked teams in six tries.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: