Now, with its next three scheduled games having been postponed and its next slated game not until Jan. 23 at Kansas State, West Virginia has plenty of time to reflect and, more importantly, heal up.
Positive COVID-19 tests within WVU’s program left the team unable to meet Big 12 Conference roster requirements. On Monday, the university announced that a game scheduled for Tuesday at No. 2 Baylor would be postponed, and by Tuesday the postponements kept coming, with home games against TCU (Saturday) and Oklahoma State (Jan. 19) being pushed back until later in the season as well.
While the situation is anything but ideal, with 13 games behind it and 14 regular-season contests to go, the break comes at a decent time for WVU (9-4 overall, 2-3 Big 12), especially considering what has transpired in recent weeks.
Losses at Kansas and Oklahoma were sandwiched around the departure of sophomore forward Oscar Tshiebwe, a preseason first-team All-Big 12 pick, who has since landed at Kentucky. Tshiebwe’s exodus from Morgantown left the team reeling and in need of an overhaul both offensively and defensively.
So far, there have been signs of progress mixed with expected struggles as the team has shifted to a more perimeter-oriented, guard-heavy attack.
“What happens when you play that way is you have to make shots,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “You’ve got to make shots, because we’re not the kind of team that we were at one time when we could score off of our defense.”
Indeed, there’s been no return of the vaunted “Press Virginia” defense, with the team relying largely on half-court sets on both ends. In the second half of the Oklahoma loss and a 19-point comeback win at Oklahoma State as well as the first half in the team’s 72-70 last-second loss to Texas on Saturday, the Mountaineers were able to make shots. In the other halves of all three of those games, they weren’t.
“Go back and look,” Huggins said of the loss to the Longhorns. “[Guard] Taz [Sherman] had a shot in transition, [guard] Sean [McNeil] had a wide-open shot in transition in the corner, a 3 that would’ve put the game out of reach, and it didn’t go down. It wasn’t a bad shot, it’s one of those ones that hit the rim about four times before it decided to fall out instead of fall in.”
Those missed shots ultimately gave the No. 4 Longhorns a chance to steal the game and they did just that, getting a 3-pointer from Andrew Jones with 1.8 seconds left to grab their first lead of the second half.
It was a bitter pill to swallow.
“They took it real hard,” Huggins admitted.
But Huggins said games like Saturday’s loss are simply part of being a college athlete and that his squad has no choice but to bounce back.
“I don’t know where that comes from — I read where guys are saying where they have to build their teams back up. If you don’t want to play, don’t come,” Huggins said. “I can see when you play back-to-back, I can see fatigue a little bit, but you work all year — and our guys have, they’ve worked all year, they’ve worked all year long to get ready for this — why would they not embellish it and be the best they can possibly be?”
Though Jones’ shot near the buzzer landed like a gut punch, Huggins said the timing of it made things seem worse and brought to light issues that have plagued his squad all season.
“We played well enough to win, we just didn’t finish it,” Huggins said. “But that’s kind of been … we’ve had spells where we’ve done that in most games, it just wasn’t at the end of the game and so glaring before.”
To that point, Huggins added that trying to move on shouldn’t be any different than moving on after any game. Against the Longhorns, WVU did some things well and some things not so well, and that is the case nearly every time out.
“We do that after every game. We’ve got a lot of things to fix after every game and we’re going to go about trying to fix it,” Huggins said. “It’s just when things like what happened happen, it makes it so much more glaring than if you still won. If they miss the last shot rather than make the last shot, everybody is happy.”