Slide Longest Under Huggins

CHARLESTON – West Virginia’s freshman-dominated roster is showing its age.

For the first time at his alma mater, Bob Huggins has lost three straight games. A combination of mishandled passes, poor shot choices, and a lack of hustle and ball movement has led to the slide.

The Mountaineers (15-8 overall, 5-5 Big East) are headed south in the conference standings but have a six-day stretch before its next game to work things out.

It’s got Huggins hoping his team can make a late-season run and qualify for its fifth straight NCAA Tournament.

The last time a Huggins-coached team lost three straight was in his only season at Kansas State in 2006-07.

West Virginia got blown out at St. Johns last Wednesday, had a heartbreaking loss at Syracuse on Saturday, then fell to Pittsburgh for the fourth straight time, 72-66 on Monday night.

It dropped West Virginia into eighth place in the conference. A week ago, the Mountaineers were tied for second.

Forward Kevin Jones said the loss against a St. Johns team that started five freshmen caused a chain reaction.

“We can’t blame it on anybody but ourselves,” Jones said. “It’s hard, especially when you’ve got younger guys. They automatically want to put their heads down and kind of give up. You’ve just got to keep their spirits up and try to bounce back from it. We’ve got a week until our next game. That’s a lot of time to reflect and get better at things.”

Guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant said he and Jones – the team’s only two seniors – plan to say something during a players-only meeting.

“We need some wins – and fast,” Bryant said. “It’s just rough right now. I know it’s rough for the young guys. It’s rough for me. I’m not used to losing.”

It helps to have some luck, and the Mountaineers have been snakebit of late.

In the closing seconds of the 63-61 loss at Syracuse, center Deniz Kilicli had a layup that appeared to touch the backboard blocked by Syracuse center Baye Keita, and Huggins said Keita should’ve been called for goaltending.

Against Pittsburgh, Huggins was yelling at Bryant in the second half when the coach was called for a technical foul. The resulting free throws sent the Panthers’ lead to double digits.

“In my career, 30 years, I’ve had a bunch of technicals,” Huggins said. “I’ve never had one for yelling at a player for not making a rotation.”

The steady play of Jones, the Big East’s leading scorer and rebounder, hasn’t been enough to overcome the team’s problems. But during a trying season that’s included using seven freshmen, Huggins has gotten all he’s asked for out of Jones.

Jones has at least 20 points in eight straight games, the first time that’s been done at WVU since 1972. He leads the Big East with 15 double-doubles this year.

“You know he’s trying to win,” Huggins said. “I think the biggest mistake he can make is trying to do more.”

West Virginia is shooting 40 percent from the floor during its last six games. Over that stretch, Bryant, the team’s second-leading scorer, has made just 26 percent of his shots.

Huggins also is looking for smarter play from the youngsters, including freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds, Aaron Brown, Gary Browne and Paul Williamson and forwards Keaton Miles and Tommie McCune.

West’ Virginia’s depth in the post is also being tested.

Backup center Kevin Noreen broke his ankle in the Pittsburgh loss. The Mountaineers already were without 6-foot-11 Pat Forsythe, who played in seven games before a back injury ended his freshman season.

It leaves junior college transfer Dominique Rutledge as the lone option behind Kilicli. Rutledge is averaging 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds.

“Dom doesn’t know what he’s doing and it’s not all his fault because we haven’t been able to get him any reps,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to try to get him up to speed.”

West Virginia resumes play on Sunday at last-place Providence (12-10, 1-8), but that doesn’t guarantee a victory – the Mountaineers are just 1-5 on the road.

Huggins said he’ll give his players a few days of rest before regrouping.

“They are probably as tired of me as I am of them,” Huggins said. “So two days off will be pretty good.”