MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Down the stretch against Texas on Monday night, West Virginia went with a lineup of Chase Harler, Jermaine Haley, Emmitt Matthews Jr., Derek Culver and Gabe Osabuohien.
The problem with having those five on the floor is the Mountaineers were down between 7-10 points almost the majority of the second half to the Longhorns, while 3-point shooters Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil sat on the bench. As did Miles McBride and Oscar Tshiebwe, who can both get a little momentum going offensively.
It certainly wasn’t a case of coach Bob Huggins waving the white flag, but it shows Huggins doesn’t know how to get WVU back on track as the wheels are barely hanging on following a 67-57 loss.
Just 36 days ago, the Mountaineers beat this same Texas team by 38 points, and one could argue the Longhorns were in worse shape Monday with four players out because of injury and illness. Instead, WVU scored 40 points less than it did Jan. 20 at the WVU Coliseum. It also out-rebounded Texas by 23 in the last meeting. This time? Dead even at 29 a piece.
This comes off the heels of a 67-60 loss at TCU on Saturday — the same TCU team West Virginia beat by 32 at the Coliseum on Jan. 14.
Since Feb. 8, the Mountaineers have lost five of six as it falls below .500 in Big 12 play at 7-8, and the downward trend came at the absolute worst time as the calendar flips to March this weekend. Confidence is lacking, shots aren’t falling, defense is struggling and there is far from an established identity. Despite winning 19 games, those are not what a team wants to face as the postseason quickly approaches.
But for Huggins, it all comes back to missing shots, which is a direct result of not spending enough time in the gym.
“We haven’t been good defensively, but when you hold people to 60 points you ought to win — if you’re any good,” Huggins said on his postgame radio interview. “[The team’s psyche] was shaken after the Oklahoma game and it didn’t change. We have a bunch of people who found more important things in their lives than being in the gym, point-blank.”
Huggins also stood on his soapbox about over-legislation in men’s basketball by the NCAA, believing he is limited in what he can do to get his players to work harder in the gym. But he said he also believes he bought too much into “saving their legs,” which is something he never did while at Cincinnati. His former Bearcat teams worked four hours a day, every day, but that philosophy has changed.
Whatever the reason, WVU is running out of time to fix what used to be a promising season. With three games left in the regular season — two at home against Oklahoma and Baylor, and a date in Ames with Iowa State — the Mountaineers are on the verge of a complete collapse. But like Huggins said, it’s up to his guys to pick themselves back up.