By Cam Huffman
Bob Huggins has seen enough.
In the moments following West Virginia’s 81-66 loss to Michigan Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. — a contest that actually saw the Mountaineers play a fairly competitive brand of basketball, in spurts, against the country’s No. 3 team — the Mountaineer head coach couldn’t hold back his frustration.
When asked in the postgame press conference about the unusually undersized lineup WVU put on the floor for much of the second half, Huggins let loose.
“I’m sick of it,” he said, with a white towel draped over the sport coat he wore instead of his usual pullover. “I’m sick of watching guys stand around. I’m sick of watching guys not compete. I’m sick of guys missing shot after shot after shot but never coming in early, never staying late, don’t even think about coming in on an off day and then telling me they care. I haven’t had guys like that before. I want some guys that care. If we get some guys that care, I’ve got a great coaching staff, and we’ll coach them up.
“I thought we put some guys in (against Michigan) that competed,” he continued, showing some pride in the fact that players like Terry Henderson, Dominique Rutledge and Eron Harris, who hadn’t seen a lot of minutes this season, helped cut an 18-point Michigan lead down as far as seven in the second half. “I think we took some guys out that wouldn’t.”
With the loss, WVU fell to 4-5 on the season and is struggling through a two-game losing skid after blowing a double-digit lead on Tuesday at Duquesne. But it wasn’t the results, as much as the hustle, that had Huggins fuming.
“We haven’t been my team,” he said. “We haven’t competed. But we competed (against Michigan). We didn’t score the last four minutes (after making a run to get the Michigan lead back down to single digits) but we had a bunch of young guys out there who were trying to catch up on one possession. They took some bad shots. We can fix that. That’s a lot easier to fix than guys standing around watching the ball roll on the floor.
“I want to play guys that want to play. I want to play guys that want to get better. I want to play guys that will put in time and care. Everybody says, ‘Oh, he’s a nice kid.’ There’s a lot of those in the library, and I ain’t playing them either.”
One of the players who is certainly taking up residence in Huggins’ doghouse is senior forward Deniz Kilicli, who had only two rebounds and didn’t score against the Wolverines. After a slow start, WVU’s top post player saw the floor for just nine minutes.
“Deniz hasn’t finished anything around the rim, and we’re not playing Deniz for his defensive ability, obviously,” Huggins said, referencing Kilicli’s defensive struggles over the course of his Mountaineer career. “You just can’t keep doing it. We can’t gear a lot of what we do around somebody that’s not going to finish.
“I love Deniz. Deniz is one of my favorite guys of all time. I love him to death. But I’m not sure I love anybody enough to lose for him. I don’t know if I love my wife that much.”
Kilicli, though, at least made the trip. The same can’t be said for junior center Aaric Murray, a LaSalle transfer, whom Huggins left in Morgantown while his team made the weekend jaunt to the Big Apple.
Huggins wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Murray’s absence, but he did send a clear message to Murray and his teammate.
“Our guys are going to do right,” he said. “It’s going to be about ‘we.’ It’s never going to be about ‘me.’ I’ve left guys home way, way, way better than Aaric Murray. I sent a couple guys home after we got there a couple times that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray. So we’re going to do the right thing.
“This is my university,” the WVU graduate and Morgantown native continued. “I love this university, and we’re going to represent it the right way. If they don’t do the right things, they’re not going to play. It’s really pretty simple. That goes for all of them.”
Huggins, who’s won more than 700 games in 30-plus years of coaching, said he’s never had a problem with finding players who were willing to put in the time to get better.
He credited the work ethic of Darris Nichols, Jamie Smalligan and Joe Alexander, who led the Mountaineers to great success during Huggins’ early years back at his alma mater, beginning with the 2007-08 season, and then mentioned Da’Sean Butler, Alex Ruoff and Wellington Smith, who helped take WVU to another level, including a Final Four in 2010.
“They were in the gym,” said Huggins, explaining the reason for that success. “They weren’t hanging out on High Street. They weren’t hanging out at some girl’s house. They were in the gym. They were committed to what we were doing.”
When those players graduated, the coach remembered, Kevin Jones was there to provide the example.
“Kevin Jones got screwed,” said Huggins, looking back on the 2011-12 season when Jones, now a Cleveland Cavalier, led the Big East in both scoring and rebounding but was not named the conference’s player of the year. “He was the best player in the Big East, because he worked and was in the gym. There’s no way that we would have lost to Duquesne and Kevin Jones wouldn’t have been in the gym all day.”
Huggins said he hasn’t seen that with this team, and he promised that the trend he began on Saturday, having the time on the court reflect the work in the gym, will continue.
“I’m not going to say who was in the gym and who wasn’t,” he said. “But you can probably figure it out. Look at the minutes played. That will tell you something.”
West Virginia will be back on the floor Wednesday when it hosts Oakland at 9 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. The game will air live on ESPNU.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.