Coach Huggins: Mountaineer Men Lack Toughness

MORGANTOWN There’s a ”big” problem with the WVU men’s basketball team.

Coach Bob Huggins listed a myriad of issues with his club after last Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma in the program’s first Big 12 game, but the one he kept coming back to was toughness.

Since guards generally don’t do much pushing and shoving, he was generally talking about a collective group of big men – Deniz Kilicli, Dom Rutledge, Kevin Noreen, and Aaric Murray – who aren’t performing well enough to help his team win games.

It’s making him question his entire philosophy as the Mountaineers head into tonight’s game against Texas.

”You sit here and you think, ‘maybe we play smaller,’ ”he said. “Maybe those guys can make a shot and we can spread people out a little bit and we can drive it and get to the foul line a little more. But then we’re not going to rebound it. It’s going to be really hard to stop the people in this league that have the good quality ”bigs” to play that small.

”I would guess when you’re not rebounding with your bigs, what’s the difference? If you’re not going to rebound it, you’re not going to rebound it.”

Huggins said Noreen’s not going to score the ball down low because he doesn’t have the lift to get over people. You never know what Rutledge is going to do with the ball, he said. Kilicli hasn’t scored and ”Aaric Murray, if he can’t reach over you, he’s not going to score,” according to Huggins.

None of these guys, with the exception of Murray during a recent three-game stretch, has devoured missed shots like Huggins wants them to.

”We got out-toughed,” Huggins said of the game against the Sooners. ”The amazing thing to me is they act like that’s not the case. I don’t know how a guy a can just continue to rebound the ball and rebound the ball and rebound the ball and you think maybe he’s not tougher than you. Because that’s what rebounding comes down to.”

The coach said he really didn’t want to go small. They do have a host of talented, yet not terribly consistent guards. Maybe they tinker around until they find out who has the hot hand and work off that.

But …

”I have a hard time with that, honestly, because my teams have always outrebounded people,” Huggins said. ”We’ve always out-toughed people.”

Lack of Focus

”I think it’s our concentration,” point guard Juwan Staten said. ”We just have a problem concentrating over 40 minutes. We kind of play in spurts. Then we go droughts where we can’t score or droughts where we can’t get a stop.”

It’s basketball ADHD.

”We don’t have the greatest listeners in the world,” Huggins said. ”We got a five-second count on an inbounds. I tell the guy, they’re going to try to string it out, all you have to do is step to the ball and he ran to half court. It’s hard to confuse ‘step to the ball’ with ‘run to half court,’ I think.”

Not all Gloom and Doom

For all of the problems, there are still some reasons to watch these Mountaineers.

One of them is freshman Terry Henderson, who has shown flashes of being the program’s next star player.

He was 6 of 11 from beyond the 3-point line against the Sooners, putting his season numbers 36 percent from the 3 and 40 percent overall. He’s averaging 12.7 points per game

Sure, he still makes freshman mistakes. But he looks like someone WVU fans can rally around, should the days get any darker.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: