Viola: WVU Down, But Not Out

MORGANTOWN – The West Virginia Mountaineers know they’re not out of it yet.

They are also well aware one, or even two more losses could send them to the NIT Tournament, or worse, no postseason play at all.

It was after Saturday’s 88-75 loss to Baylor that reality seemingly smacked the Mountaineers in the face.

”It’s very deflating,” sophomore guard Eron Harris said of the home loss. ”But, just like you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. I don’t think it’s ever over for us. At the end of the day, the Big 12 tournament is what counts to get into the (NCAA) tournament.

”We can’t win if we give up that many points in the paint and that high of a shooting percentage. You can’t really win that game. If we can’t get better at that, then we’re not going to win too many more games. That’s the end of the story right there.”

It was to that end Coach Bob Huggins didn’t question his team’s talent or ability, but their commitment to excellence.

”If you go out and know your guy is going to drive it right because he hasn’t driven it left all year and you let him drive it right, that’s not commitment,” Huggins said. ”If you know your guy has to turn over his left shoulder because that’s the only way he can turn and you continually let him do that, that’s not commitment. When I’m screaming after a timeout so they know where they’re supposed to get to to run a set, that’s not commitment.

”We had a week (prior to playing Baylor). They all have iPads. They all have all the breakdowns and the breakdowns for the people they’re going to guard. I’m not sure what they did. Maybe they played Spider on their iPads, but they sure as hell didn’t watch tape.”

The Mountaineers (15-12 overall, 7-7 Big 12) have now lost three out of their last four games after a three-game win streak.

If you look closely enough at those losses to Kansas, Texas and Baylor, the Mountaineers were beaten the same way each time.

They were widely outscored in the paint (130-44) and gave up very high shooting percentages (Kansas shot 54.9, Texas 57.9 and Baylor 54.2).

The Mountaineers’ one true big man, 6-foot-5, 255-pound freshman Devin Williams, has shown flashes and leads the team in rebounds with 188 (126 defensive), but he can’t do it alone. When some teams have two or even three players that match Williams’ size, WVU doesn’t have an answer for them.

Junior guard Juwan Staten is second on the team with 162 boards, but at 6-foot-1, how is he supposed to guard a guy like Baylor’s Isaiah Austin, who is a whole foot taller than him, when he gets a foot away from the basket?

”Size has kind of been our downfall this year,” Staten said. ”We’re not really big in the paint. Our players we have in the paint are young and haven’t really been through a whole season. They don’t know what to look for as opposed to a guy who’s been in there a couple years or someone who has played in that spot at this level. That’s been our downfall this year, but we have to continue to guard as a team. We have to continue to talk to these young guys that are going to be guarding those bigs.

”We need to fix some things in practice. We need to spend more time watching film and preparing so we understand what it is we really need to do when we go onto the court.”

That’s where the commitment to excellence comes into play.

West Virginia has four games left in the regular season. Three of the four opponents WVU has already beaten.

”We’re not out,” Staten said. ”We still have confidence in this team and we know we can play with any team in the conference.”

Now is the time to prove it.

Tony Viola can be reached via email at