MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Few people take more pride in wearing the Flying WV logo and Old Gold and Blue than Bob Huggins. He’s a West Virginia native, a former Mountaineer player, and in his 16th year as head coach of the Mountaineer men’s basketball team.
That pride makes the wins sweeter, and the losses sting deeper.
WVU and its head coach have suffered stings in six of its last seven games. They have taken a stinger at home and on the road, in close games and in one that wasn’t really close.
The latest sting came at home Saturday night in an eight-point loss to No. 7 Texas in front of a sold-out crowd.
“What kills me is, I sat here and said, ‘We’ll fix it.’ The people in the state of West Virginia, I told them that we’ll fix it, and I thought we were on the road to fixing it. Obviously, we’re not. It’s frustrating,” Huggins said following a loss in which the score was tied nine times, changed hands eight times, and neither team led by more than eight points. “I’m not the kind of person that wants to let people down. It hurts me to let people down. I feel like I’ve let the great fans in this state down. We had 14,100 and something people here to play like that. I would have thought we would be really jacked up for it. I didn’t see a lot of emotion or enthusiasm.”
There have been consistent in-game problems that Huggins has been trying to fix for most of the season.
Turning the ball over has been one. Despite having one of the best turnover margins in the Big 12, WVU has committed 13 or more turnovers nine times this season, including tying a season-high by committing 20 turnovers against the Longhorns.
“We talked about that earlier in the year and said we were going to fix it,” said Huggins. “We had it down to where we were turning it over maybe six times a game which wasn’t good, but it’s way better than 20. Now we’re back to 20 and not even playing against pressure. We just throw the ball to the wrong team.”
Free throw shooting has been another problem. The Mountaineers rank ninth in the league in free throw shooting percentage, despite taking the most shots at the line of any team in the conference. Huggins has had to watch his team shoot below 70 percent from the charity stripe eight times this year. WVU is 1-5 when it shoots less than 65 percent from the free-throw line.
“[We] can’t miss free throws. Particularly can’t miss free throws when you’re trying to catch up. We did that,” said Huggins.
There have been other points of contention for the Bear this year, not making crucial plays in crucial situations and below-expectation results from certain players among them.
One word to summarize the head coach’s feelings over the last three weeks is frustration. But as Huggins said Saturday, it’s more than just frustration.
“I don’t know the difference between frustration, disappointment, and guilt of telling people that we’re going to fix this and then turn around and do this,” said the Hall of Famer. “I’m not exactly sure what that’s called. I don’t care for it much, whatever it is that you call it. I guess frustration is a part of it.”
Playing in the toughest conference in America, there are few opportunities to fix things against a struggling opponent. One such opportunity lies ahead as West Virginia (11-8, 1-6 Big 12) hits the road to take on Texas Tech (10-9, 0-7 Big 12) on Wednesday.
After that? Home vs. No. 16 Auburn. At No. 14 TCU. Home vs. Oklahoma. Home vs. No. 12 Iowa State. At No. 7 Texas. At No. 21 Baylor.
The road gets no easier.