MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– West Virginia University has lost three games by four points or less and in all three losses, the Mountaineers had the same struggles. Missed free throws, defensive troubles and lack of effort.
In Wednesday’s 89-87 loss to Oklahoma, WVU made 18-of-29 from the charity stripe. In the overtime session, the Mountaineers made just 4-of-9 free throws.
“Foul shooting plays a part,” Huggins said. “The fact that we have people wide open and can’t pass the ball had a lot to do with it. We are up 15 and I made a mistake. They said, ‘Can we spread it and go flat-screen?’ I said yeah and we turned it over two times for layups. Then we missed a free throw, got pushed under the basket and the guy who got pushed under the basket doesn’t get back and they get a dunk at the other end and all of a sudden you don’t have the lead that you had.”
It was a similar fate two weeks earlier when WVU lost 77-76 to Texas Tech in overtime. The Mountaineers shot an abysmal 54.2 percent from the line, missing six free throws.
“18-for-29, we’re not going to win,” Huggins said. “Particularly when we are 10 for our first 11.So we are seven for our last 18. How you going to win? And it’s demoralizing. I think the most demoralizing thing in basketball is some guys stand out there and miss two free throws. One out of two you can kind of live with. I think it’s very demoralizing. I’d just as soon they throw it out of bounds.”
Huggins doesn’t think his team’s foul shooting woes are because of anything other than lack of effort.
“If you are in the gym and you shoot a couple hundred of them a day like the good players do, you shoot a couple hundred a day do you think you get tight?” Huggins said.” No those guys are the guys that want to go to the line because they put the work in. The guys that are afraid to go are the guys that deep down know they have a heck of a chance to miss them because they have not put the time in.”
Practice is the key to triumph at the trade not talent.
“You don’t have to be a good shooter to make free throws if you put enough time in,” Huggins added. “That’s something you can do on your own and that’s something that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort.”
Effort was something the Mountaineers lacked against the Sooners.
At times WVU brought the energy and the press seemed to work. With 8:56 left Jevon Carter’s fast-break layup capped a 14-0 run and gave the Mountaineers a 15-point lead over Oklahoma.
It looked like it would be smooth sailing from there but the wheels fell off and the Sooners would tie the game with 4:25 left.
The lack of effort has been an issue that has plagued WVU a number of times this season, including the practices leading up to the Oklahoma contest.
“They quit playing after two hours [of practice] for two days,” Huggins said. “Truth of the matter is we haven’t ran the ball down from behind for how long? Which is what we are really good at. We haven’t made a steal below the foul line in how long? That’s effort. That’s not lack of energy. That’s lack of effort.”
Effort is what makes the press fruitful. If the defense isn’t working then there is a good chance the Mountaineers are going to struggle.
“That’s what we do, we live and die with it,” senior forward Nathan Adrian said. “There is no reason that it shouldn’t work other than effort so that’s our fault.”
WVU’s offense thrives off its defensive play. The Mountaineers are contingent on turnovers to generate points. In all three losses and the win at Texas, it was an area that the team struggled with.
“We have 13 turnovers and they have 12,” Huggins said. “We aren’t going to win. 32 percent of our offense comes from our defense.”
WVU’s defense spans the entire court for 40 minutes. It’s in your face and bombards its opponents.
That requires effort, ball pressure and guarding your man.
All things the Mountaineers lacked in Wednesday’s loss.
On the final play of the game, the Sooners got the ball to their man, Jordan Woodard and effortlessly drove down the court. No pressure, no effort.
“We just weren’t guarding like we’re supposed to,” Adrian said. “That’s not how we’re taught. It’s not what our coaches tell us to do. We weren’t playing right.”
If WVU hopes to steal the Big 12 title from Kansas or make a long run in March, they will need to give 110 percent for 40 minutes in every game.
If not more disappointment could be on the horizon.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS