By Cam Huffman
Asked Monday what he saw that he liked in his team’s season opener on the road against Gonzaga on Nov. 12, West Virginia University basketball coach Bob Huggins paused before finally coming up with an answer.
“Their student section was pretty good,” he said of the Bulldog fans that packed the McCarthey Athletic Center to kick off the 2012-13 season. “Other than that, nothing.”
Huggins is a hard man to satisfy, but there aren’t many coaches anywhere that could have found much of a silver lining in the Mountaineers’ performance in Spokane, Wash.
WVU shot just 27.3 percent from the field, including a 3-of-26 mark from 3-point range, and it turned the ball over 20 times. It was out-rebounded by Gonzaga 38-36, and it got just 17 points off its bench, compared to 23 from the home team.
WVU led only once — a-minute-and-a-half into the game — and the game was out of hand soon after, as Gonzaga held the Mountaineers to just 18 points in the opening half.
The Bulldogs finished off the game with their largest lead of the evening, winning 84-50.
“I thought we’d be better,” said Huggins, not holding back his thoughts on the performance. “I thought our returning guys would do a better job. But we started three of them who hadn’t played.
“We have a tendency to watch instead of playing. We get beat to balls, because we don’t react.
“We’ve been trying to work on that. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to do a better job guarding. I think the hard thing about running motion — and we’ll be better by the end of the year — is that you put the ball in everybody’s hands, and you have a lot of people that have to make decisions. That didn’t work out very well for us.”
Huggins had promised during the preseason that this season’s Mountaineers would push the tempo much more than in the past, but WVU was never really able to display its athleticism in the opener.
“The truth of the matter is we never got in transition,” he explained. “When you never stop anybody, it’s hard to run. And we don’t rebound the ball like we need to.”
Huggins, in fact, was so upset with the performance against Gonzaga — the same team that ended WVU’s 2011-12 season in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament — that he banned players from wearing their school-supplied gear to practices and kicked them out of the state-of-the-art locker rooms at the new practice facility.
He said until the players learn to represent the university the way it should be represented, they can wear their own gear and find their own location to take a post-practice shower.
That should be plenty of motivation over the next couple of days when WVU travels to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to participate in the Old Spice Classic.
The Mountaineers’ first game will be today, when they take on Marist on ESPN2 at noon.
The Red Foxes are 1-2 after dropping their first two games to Stony Brook and Colgate and then beating Columbia on Saturday.
“They play hard and try to spread you,” said Huggins of today’s opponent. “They’re like everybody else. When they make shots, they’re very dangerous. When the shots don’t go in, they struggle. They’re considerably smaller than we are, so they’re really going to try to spread you and shoot the 3-ball a lot.”
WVU will play either Vanderbilt or Davidson Friday, on ESPN or ESPNU, before concluding the tournament Sunday on ESPN2 or ESPNU. Possible opponents for the last day include UTEP, Oklahoma, Clemson and Gonzaga.
“It’s really a heck of a field,” said Huggins. “Oklahoma is playing extremely well, and Gonzaga, obviously, is playing extremely well. Davidson is playing well. It’s a tough field, and we’re going to have to play a whole lot better than what we did.”